Meadow Pipits get a break

01 Jul 2015 | No. 2015-30

The latest Breeding Bird Survey report shows how the mild winter of 2013/14 was a welcome change for Northern Ireland’s birds after the cold spring of 2013. Many resident species benefitted from the let up in the chill, with increases for Robin (13%), Great Tit (25%), Song Thrush (29%), Wren (40%), Chiffchaff (51%) and Meadow Pipit (69%).

Population trends for 35 bird species in Northern Ireland have been calculated in the latest BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) annual report. BBS is the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common breeding birds.

Despite the 2013/14 upturn of 69%, Meadow Pipit has shown long-term declines across Ireland as a whole and remains on the Red list of Birds of Conservation Concern Ireland, a list covering species in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland combined, categorising birds from least concern (Green) through to Amber and then Red.

BBS data have been used to map the relative densities of Meadow Pipit in the UK between 1994-96 and 2007-09, and showed decreases in Meadow Pipit densities throughout its core range in Northern Ireland. Some Meadow Pipit migrate south for the winter, to the Iberian Peninsula, while others stay here in the UK. Influences on population change for Meadow Pipit could, therefore, be in the UK or on the Iberian Peninsula. A loss of ‘good quality’ land, suitable for breeding Meadow Pipit is thought to be a contributing factor in their decline.

Starling in Northern Ireland has increased by 42% between 1995 and 2013, bucking the trend seen in the UK as a whole, where numbers have fallen by 50%. The reasons behind these trends are not fully understood.

Sarah Harris, BBS Organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, said “England, Scotland and Wales have seen Starling decline by 60%, 30% and 70% respectively, between 1995 and 2013. A striking contrast to the 42% increase in Northern Ireland in the same time period. It is down to the dedication of BBS volunteers, surveying BBS squares year-on-year that we are able to calculate population trends at a country-specific level and this can be invaluable when looking into the reasons behind population changes. Thank you to every BBS volunteer in Northern Ireland – your contributions are invaluable to the survey and the monitoring of Northern Ireland's bird and mammal species.” 

Ian Enlander, Ornithologist, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said “Participants in the BBS scheme here will be pleased to see a focus on species trends in Northern Ireland. The regional approach to data acquisition and analysis is critical in highlighting differences in fortune between different geographical populations such as the Starling. Such data is a necessary first step in informing management responses to address wider declines. These findings also underline the need to at least maintain regional BBS effort – hopefully this years BBS report will inspire more people in Northern Ireland to commit to ‘getting a square’ and coming a BBS addict.”

Kendrew Colhoun, Senior Conservation Scientist at RSPB Northern Ireland, added “The annual BBS is the primary source of information on the trends of our most common and widespread breeding birds and is keenly awaited each year. The increase of Buzzard and Blackcap populations is remarkable, but set against this are the notable declines in Meadow Pipit, Skylark and other species most closely associated with farmland - trends for many of which we are currently unable to generate. The upward trend for Starling, at odds to other UK regions, is interesting and poses questions as to why ours are faring well whilst elsewhere the species is in steep decline.”

Notes for Editors

  1. In 2014, 115 BBS squares were covered in Northern Ireland; 52 by professional fieldworkers, the remainder, by volunteers. We are grateful to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency who funded, along with the BTO, training courses with the aim of increasing coverage in Northern Ireland.
  2. The latest report can be found at
  3. 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).
  4. The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a UK-wide project aimed at keeping track of changes in the breeding populations of widespread bird species. The BBS involves around 2,600 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.
  5. The information provided by the BBS provides a cornerstone for conservation action for birds in the UK.
  6. 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.
  7. 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]

Viola Ross-Smith
(BTO Science Communications Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: viola.ross-smith [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]

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