A northern powerhouse for UK songbirds

26 Apr 2018 | No. 2018-10

The latest survey results show that Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warblers are thriving north of the England-Scotland border, whilst struggling south of it.

The latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report, published today, shows a 66% increase for Spotted Flycatcher during 2011–2016 and a 21% upturn for Willow Warbler in Scotland over the last 23 years. In England, both of these birds are in trouble.

Since the start of the BBS in 1994, the UK has lost over a third of its breeding Spotted Flycatchers, and the decline in England has been a whopping 65%.  The species is Red-listed and of the highest conservation concern, based on its longer-term decline.  The Willow Warbler has fared better, with 9% of the UK breeding population being lost since 1994 - but the decline in England has been a worrying 40%.

The upturn in both of these long-distance migrants in Scotland, and the stark contrast with their fortunes in England, has been tracked thanks to record levels of coverage undertaken by volunteer recorders. A fantastic 2,814 people took time to survey birds during the breeding season in their allocated survey squares across the UK, allowing scientists at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to build a very accurate picture of just how our bird populations are doing.

The BBS Report gives long-term trends for 117 common and widespread bird species, providing vital evidence to underpin the conservation of the UK’s birds.

Sarah Harris, BBS Organiser, at the BTO, said, “The BBS is a fantastic example of a citizen science project. We are delighted that coverage was at an all-time high in 2017.  We owe these skilled volunteers a huge thank you, without them we wouldn’t be able to monitor what is happening to our breeding birds so closely and there are still squares available for skilled volunteers, able to identify bird species by sight and sound, to get involved.”

Dr Mark Eaton, Principal Conservation Scientist at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, said “Many of the birds which breed in the UK but migrate to spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa are in decline. We need to understand more about the threats these birds face, and what lies behind patterns of changes that include welcome increases in Scotland but continuing losses in England for these and other species such as Cuckoo and House Martin.”

The BBS is a partnership between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and reports annually on how Britain’s widespread breeding birds are faring.

Contact Details

Sarah Harris
(Breeding Bird Survey Organiser, BTO)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: sarah.harris [at] bto.org (subject: A%20northern%20powerhouse%20for%20UK%20songbirds)
Mike Toms
(BTO Head of Communications)
Office: 01842 750050
(Mon-Thurs 9am to 5.30pm) (Fri 9am to 5pm)
Email: press [at] bto.org (subject: A%20northern%20powerhouse%20for%20UK%20songbirds)

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. Please contact images [at] bto.org (subject: April%202018-10)  quoting reference April 2018-10
The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews. Please contact us to book an interview Office: 01842 750050

Notes for Editors

Population trends for 117 bird species in the UK 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.

In 2017, 3,941 BBS squares were covered in the UK by volunteers. 

The latest report can be found here

The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Partnership: The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, with fieldwork conducted by volunteers.

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 2,800 participants who survey more than 3,900 sites across the UK, enabling us to monitor the population changes of 117 bird species. Knowing to what extent bird populations are increasing or decreasing is fundamental to bird conservation.

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.

The BTO is the UK's leading bird research organisation. Up to 60,000 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 Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO's investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.

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