Linnet low in Northern Ireland

01 Aug 2014 | No. 2014-51

Linnets suffered last year with the latest results from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) revealing a fall of 37% between 2012 and 2013 in Northern Ireland. This was also the case for much of the UK with the overall short-term trend for Linnet being a decline of 25%.

The reasons for these yearly fluctuations are difficult to determine but research into Linnet decline since the 1970s shows complex variations in breeding performance depending on where they are and the habitat they use. Research found no difference in adult or first-year survival rates over time suggesting that breeding performance and the number of nesting attempts during the breeding season have the greatest influence on population trends. Interestingly, data from the Countryside Bird Survey, run by BirdWatch Ireland and National Parks and Wildlife Service, covering the Republic of Ireland, suggests the population is more stable in the Republic of Ireland than in the UK.

Skylark and Meadow Pipit show a decline of 54% and 29% respectively between 1995 and 2012 in Northern Ireland. As a result of steep population declines, Skylark is on the amber list and Meadow Pipit on the red list of the joint BirdWatch Ireland and RSPB Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland list which covers Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Linnet is also amber on this list.

Not all birds are declining however, 11 of the 13 species for which we have statistically significant trends, showed an increase between 1995­ and 2012 in Northern Ireland. Significant increases between 1995 and 2012 include Great Tit (163%), Hooded Crow (138%) and Pheasant (124%). Bird Atlas 2007–11 published last year showed that many species were present in higher densities in Ireland than Britain.

Population trends for 35 bird species in Northern Ireland have been calculated in the latest BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey annual report. This is the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common breeding birds, and our ability to report trends for more species will improve over time and with the increasing number of survey sites.

Sarah Harris, BBS Organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, said “Volunteers in Northern Ireland, bolstered by some additional help from professional fieldworkers (funded by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency), surveyed a total of 127 squares for the Breeding Bird Survey. This is just four squares short of the 2007 all-time record coverage and a great achievement for all involved. Increased coverage means more data available for analysis, and helps us unravel the reasons behind the changes in fortune for more of Northern Ireland’s bird species.”

Dr Neil McCulloch, Ornithologist, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said “The remarkable efforts of the increasing number of BBS participants throughout Northern Ireland have again provided an invaluable insight into the current trends in abundance of our bird populations. While we can take encouragement from several species maintaining greater relative abundance in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, a many of our familiar birds, particularly those associated with farmland and the uplands, continue to decline and give serious cause for concern. The information contributed through the skill and dedication of BBS volunteers is essential in identifying those species, communities and habitats most in need of conservation action and in assessing the effectiveness of measures taken so far.”

Kendrew Colhoun, Senior Conservation Scientist at the RSPB, added “The latest results of the BBS in Northern Ireland show continued declines of formerly common and widespread breeding farmland bird species. The record lows for Linnet and Skylark reflects a general decline in farmland bird populations that has affected the province over recent decades. These results are consistent with the recent all-Ireland Birds of Conservation Concern list produced jointly with BirdWatch Ireland.BBS remains our key tool for determining the population trends of widespread breeding birds in Northern Ireland and the large team of mostly volunteer scheme participants are to be congratulated for generating this critically important information.”

Notes for Editors

  1. The latest report can be found at
  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 Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales 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 around 2,800 participants who survey more than 3,600 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. In Northern Ireland 127 BBS squares were surveyed, 75 of which were surveyed by volunteers.

    The information provided by the BBS provides a cornerstone for conservation action for birds in the UK.

    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.
  4. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Details

Sarah Harris
(Breeding Bird Survey Organiser)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: sarah.harris [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Shane Wolsey
(Oversees the BBS for the BTO in Northern Ireland)

Home: 02891 467 947
Email: shane.wolsey [at]

Amy Ryan
(RSPB Northern Ireland)

Office: 028 9049 1547
Email: amy.ryan [at]

Ian Enlander
(Senior Ornithologist)

Office: 02890 569647
Email:  ian.Enlander [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2014-51

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