Scotland - still a bonnie place for birds?

No.:  2013-49
November 2013

One of the most ambitious volunteer projects ever undertaken, to map all of Britain & Ireland’s birds in both winter and the breeding season, and from every part of these islands, is realised with the publication of the Bird Atlas 2007–11, and the results are compelling.

The headline findings show that Scotland is the best place to be for some of our birds. A whole range of migrating species that spend the summer in Scotland and the winter in Africa are doing much better than they are faring south of the border. These include that well-known herald of summer, the Cuckoo, as well as the Swallow, House Martin and Willow Warbler.

Across Scotland 7,000 volunteers spent four years scouring the country in search of birds. They submitted around two million records to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), providing the local information on bird numbers to build a complete national picture, and finding some startling results along the way.

Some birds are actively colonising parts of Scotland and increasing their range. The colourful Goldfinch, only found south of the Central Belt 40 years ago, has expanded northwards and now breeds throughout much of Scotland. The Barn Owl has at times struggled south of the border over the last 40 years, but in Scotland it has found a successful home, gaining new ground and now breeding as far north as Cape Wrath. Similarly the noisy Nuthatch is now widespread across southern Scotland and moving northwards, with changes in Scotland’s climate probably playing a role in the fortunes of all three species.

But it is by no means all good news! Species that depend on farmland to breed, such as Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer, have continued to decline, despite a huge amount of effort spent trying to reverse the trends. Similarly, many Scottish waders, like Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank that need marshy areas for breeding, have continued to decline rapidly, as have a range of birds that depend on upland habitats for breeding. Some non-native birds, like Canada Goose and Red-legged Partridge, have rapidly expanded their range in Scotland, with possible future consequences for our native wildlife.

Bob Swann, Scottish Atlas Organiser, commented: “I cannot thank all the volunteers enough for the scale of surveying they have managed to achieve. Only a very few uninhabited offshore islets escaped coverage! The results show us important changes that we need to understand for bird conservation. Take the Pochard, a duck formerly very common in central Scotland. It is now much scarcer in winter. This could be because Pochards remain to winter on the continent now rather than crossing over to Scotland. This so-called short-stopping seems to be increasingly common, and other birds such as Dunlin, Knot and Turnstone are showing similar trends, probably related to climate change.”

Chris McInerny, President of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, commented: "The SOC has been delighted to be a partner in this important project, not only through many of its members contributing to fieldwork in Scotland, but also through the Club supporting it financially at various levels. This partnership and support is exemplified by the Club sponsorship of the Crested Tit species account in the book, an important Scottish bird and the Club's emblem."

Chris Wernham, Head of BTO Scotland, commented: “There could be no better example of volunteer birdwatchers, professional ecologists and a range of partners working successfully together than Bird Atlas 2007-11, and we are really grateful to them all. The Bird Atlas book launched this week is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of making the results available for conservation purposes. Now the results need to be analysed further to help us understand why these changes that the project has demonstrated are taking place, whether driven by climate, land-use change, land management and farming practices or other factors. This increased understanding will provide the scientific evidence required for Scotland’s biodiversity to be managed in a more sustainable way.”

Notes for Editors

1. The Atlas contains over 1,300 maps that describe patterns of distribution, abundance and change for nearly 300 species in one hardback volume. For more information http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/birdatlas

2.  Bird Atlas 2007-11 is a partnership between British Trust for Ornithology, Scottish Ornithologists' Club and Birdwatch Ireland.  The Atlas is published by BTO on behalf of the Atlas partnership.

3. 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. www.bto.org

Contact information

Dawn Balmer
(Atlas Coordinator)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07743 994497
Email: dawn.balmer [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Dr Simon Gillings
(BTO Senior Research Ecologist)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: simon.gillings [at] bto.org

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