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Breeding Birds in the Wider Countryside:
their conservation status 2003

Trends in numbers and breeding performance for UK birds

H Q P Crick, J H Marchant, D G Noble, S R Baillie, D E Balmer, L P Beaven, R H Coombes,
I S Downie, S N Freeman, A C Joys, D I Leech, M J Raven, R A Robinson and R M Thewlis

This website is a "one-stop-shop" for information about the population status of our common terrestrial birds. With one page per species, users can quickly find all the key information about trends in population size and breeding performance over the period 1967-2002 as measured by BTO monitoring schemes.

For each species, we provide:

  • General information concerning species' conservation listings
  • A brief summary of observed changes in the size of the population and information concerning the possible causes of these changes
  • A series of graphs and tables showing the trends and changes in population size and breeding performance over the past 33 years
  • Trends calculated from BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data, not only for the UK as a whole but also for each of its constituent countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
  • A system of Alerts that highlight population declines in any census scheme of greater than 25% or greater than 50% that have occurred over the past 5 years, 10 years, 25 years and 33 years.
Bullfinch © Rosie Rees

The website covers the majority of British breeding birds, over 100 species in total, but excludes colonial seabirds, which are well covered by the JNCC's Seabird Monitoring Programme (Mavor et al. 2003 ), and those species that are already covered by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel (Ogilvie & RBBP 2003). Most wintering populations of waterfowl are well covered by the Wetland Bird Survey annual reports (e.g. Pollitt et al. 2003).

Yellow Wagtail © Tommy Holden

The following species exhibit rapid declines (of over 50%) or moderate declines (between 25 and 49%) over the 33-year period 1967-2000 as measured by a combination of the Common Birds Census (CBC) and the BBS:

The following species (not listed above) exhibit rapid declines (of over 50%) over shorter time periods. Two species (Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Woodcock) are no longer monitored in sufficient numbers by the BBS and are listed on the basis of declines >50% on the CBC between 1968 and 1999.

It should be noted that CBC plots are concentrated in lowland areas, and as such may not cover a major proportion of the UK population of species associated with alternative habitats. Reported trends for these species may be restricted to England.

The following species show rapid declines (of over 50%) or moderate declines (between 25 and 49%) over the 25-year period 1975-2000, as measured by the Waterways Bird Survey (WBS):

Little Grebe © Tommy Holden

In addition, Lesser Whitethroat has shown a decline of 52% on Constant Effort Sites (CES) since 1984, together with a 30% decline on CBC/BBS plots in England since 1975).

A number of species have undergone substantial population increases, more than doubling, over the same time period:

There are a number of species for which declines in breeding performance are likely to be driving the population declines (Linnet and Lapwing) or helping to inhibit recovery (possibly Reed Bunting). The importance of decreases in breeding performance for declining Willow Warbler, Lesser Redpoll, Ringed Plover, Dunnock, Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Grey Wagtail and Yellow Wagtail populations and for farmland Moorhen populations is, as yet, undetermined. 

Increasing breeding performance may be helping to drive population expansion of a number of species:  the predatory Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard; the corvids Jackdaw, Magpie, Jay, Carrion Crow and Rook; the seed-eaters Collared Dove, Stock Dove and Woodlark; and the insectivores Pied Wagtail, Robin, Redstart, Wren, Reed Warbler, Nuthatch, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Long-tailed Tit.

For a few species for which long-term population data are not available, changes in breeding performance from the Nest Record Scheme may provide a potential warning of population declines, because they are the result of density-dependent changes (Stonechat, Wheatear, Tawny Owl and Ring Ouzel).  The importance of the substantial declines in productivity of Greenfinch, Blue Tit, Sedge Warbler and Garden Warbler is unclear at the moment, but warrants close attention.

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This report should be cited as:
Crick, H.Q.P., Marchant, J.H., Noble, D.G., Baillie, S.R., Balmer, D.E., Beaven, L.P., Coombes, R.H.,
Downie, I.S., Freeman, S.N., Joys, A.C., Leech, D.I., Raven, M.J., Robinson, R.A. and Thewlis, R.M. (2004)
Breeding Birds in the Wider Countryside: their conservation status 2003.
BTO Research Report No. 353. BTO, Thetford. (http://www.bto.org/birdtrends2003)

Pages maintained by Susan Waghorn and Iain Downie: Last updated 16 February, 2009