Larks descending in Northern Ireland

01 Jul 2010 | No. 2010-07-32

Issued by BTO, on behalf of BTO, JNCC and RSPB

According to the latest results from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), the iconic Skylark declined by almost a quarter in Northern Ireland between 2008 and 2009, though showing no significant change in the rest of the UK.

  All is not well with this symbol of summer
in Northern Ireland

The sight and sound of a Skylark in full song over its grassland home is one of the quintessential signs of summer in full swing. However, all is not well with this symbol of summer in Northern Ireland. The latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report, a partnership between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), shows that in Northern Ireland Skylark numbers declined by 33% between 1995 and 2008, and fell by a further 23% (of the 2008 numbers) between 2008 and 2009. The reasons behind this are unclear, but could relate to changes in farming practices.

It’s not all bad news for birds in Northern Ireland, and the greatest increases since the survey began have been shown by Goldfinch (674%), Great Tit (176%), Pheasant (167%), Hooded Crow (113%) and Linnet (99%). Two of these declined in the UK as a whole, Hooded Crow by 3% and Linnet by 23%.

Kate Risely, BBS Organiser at the BTO, commented, “It is thanks to the dedication of BBS volunteers in Northern Ireland that we know how birds like the Skylark are doing. Bird populations are an important indicator of the health of our countryside, so it is very important to monitor bird numbers closely”

Shane Wolsey, BTO Ireland Officer, added, “We really need more BBS volunteer surveyors to enable us to properly understand what is happening to the birds in Northern Ireland. I provide training on how to do BBS surveying, and nearly all surveyors become quite attached to ‘their’ square. I would be very keen to hear from anyone who would be interested in helping next year.”

Ian Enlander, Northern Ireland Environment Agency commented, “NIEA continue to support this important work as the data produced is critical to understanding changes to Northern Ireland’s bird populations and general countryside and in helping assess the effectiveness of wider environmental actions. Such data is also of importance when trying to understand wider factors affecting our countryside such as climate change. We would also encourage more volunteers to become involved in this work. Apart from generating this data, the surveys involved are very enjoyable.”

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said, “We are very worried that government spending cuts will affect the funding of the Breeding Birds Survey but also of conservation measures that would improve the fortunes of many declining species. Cuts to agri-environment funding will mean that farmland bird numbers, as measured by the BBS, will remain at low levels.”

For more information on how you can help the BBS in Northern Ireland contact Shane Wolsey on 07831 697371 or shane.wolsey [at] or drop him a line to 25 Ballyholme Esplanade, Bangor, Co Down BT20 5LZ.

Notes for Editors

  1. For a pdf of the full report visit
  2. The Breeding Bird Survey is run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and is jointly funded by BTO, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) (on behalf of the statutory nature conservation agencies: Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, the Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage), and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
  3. The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a national project aimed at keeping track of changes in the breeding populations of widespread bird species in the UK. The BBS involves over 2,500 participants who now survey more than 3,200 sites across the UK, enabling us to monitor the population changes of over 100 bird species. Knowing to what extent bird populations are increasing or decreasing is fundamental to bird conservation.
  4. The information provided by the BBS provides a cornerstone for conservation action for birds in the UK. This survey forms an integral part of the Government’s Quality of Life indicators.
  5. This important survey is carried out by volunteer birdwatchers throughout the UK, who receive no financial reward or expenses for their efforts. We are indebted to them for their tremendous support.
  6. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO’s surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk and Stirling, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO’s investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.
  7. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the statutory adviser to Government on UK and international nature conservation, on behalf of the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, the Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage. Its work contributes to maintaining and enriching biological diversity, conserving geological features and sustaining natural systems. Website:

Contact information 

Kate Risely (Breeding Bird Survey Organiser)
Office: 01842 750050
Email: bbs [at]

Paul Stancliffe (BTO Press Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07845 900559 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Grahame Madge (RSPB Press Officer)
Office: 01767 681577 (Office Hours)
Mobile: 07702 196902 (anytime)

Images are available for use alongside this News Release
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2010-07-32

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