Scottish Skylarks suffer

01 Jul 2012 | No. 2012-25

Latest figures from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) reveal that Skylark numbers fell by 25% in Scotland between 2010 and 2011.

Skylark numbers in Scotland fell
by 25% between 2010 and 2011 

The winter of 2010 was particularly harsh, with temperatures well below average and more days than normal where the ground was frozen. As ground feeders, Skylarks are severely affected by such conditions, which may account for the fall in numbers.

BBS population trends are published annually for 60 bird species in Scotland. While a number of species have declined, many birds are thriving in Scotland, including Bullfinch, which increased by 72% between 2010 and 2011.

There are indications that Bullfinches are changing their behaviour to take advantage of bird food in gardens, and the Scottish BBS trends show that some other species that make use of gardens are also increasing. These include Great Spotted Woodpecker and Goldfinch, which have increased in Scotland by 312% and 133% respectively since the start of the survey in 1994.

Kate Risely, BBS organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, said “This is a surprising and worrying decline in Skylark numbers, which had been holding up well in Scotland until recently. BBS results are crucial in understanding the causes behind bird declines, and we owe this information to dedicated volunteer birdwatchers across the country.”

Dr Andy Douse, ornithologist at Scottish Natural Heritage, added "The report highlights the invaluable contribution to bird monitoring made by volunteers. The results provide SNH with a fascinating picture of how our common birds are faring in Scotland, but we are also conscious that better coverage is needed in our upland habitats. SNH will be working with BTO to improve this in the coming years."

Professor Jeremy Wilson, Head of Conservation Science at RSPB Scotland, said “The Breeding Bird Survey gives us crucial conservation insights into the fortunes of Scotland’s birds over the past 15 years. Increases in the populations of some summer migrants such as Swallows, House Martins and Whitethroats are welcome, but urgent action is needed through agri-environment schemes to address the declines of waders such as Lapwing and Curlew. The 64% decline in Kestrel populations since 1995 is especially worrying and RSPB is beginning research on this species to diagnose the causes.”

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 around 2,500 participants who 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.
  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, Stirling and Bangor, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO's investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Details

Kate Risely
(Breeding Bird Survey Organiser)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: kate.risely [at]

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

Louise Smith
(National Media & Communications Officer, RSPB Scotland)
Office: 0131 317 4136
Mobile: 07540121457
Email: Louise.Smith [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2012-25 

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews. Please contact us to book an interview Office: 01842 750050

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