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Species groups

Waterbirds

Species

Long-term Trend

Primary Demographic

Primary Ecological

Mute Swan

Rapid Increase (UK, Eng)

Survival

Other

Greylag Goose

Rapid Increase (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Canada Goose

Rapid Increase (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Gadwall

Rapid Increase (UK, Eng)

Unknown

Unknown

Mallard

Rapid Increase (UK, Eng)

Unknown

Unknown

Mandarin Duck

Increase (UK, Eng)

-

-

Tufted Duck

Possible Increase

Unknown

Unknown

Goosander

Rapid Increase (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Cormorant

Increase (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Little Egret

Rapid Increase (UK, Eng)

Unknown

Unknown

Grey Heron

Possible shallow increase (UK, Eng)

Probable moderate decline (Scot, Wales)

Survival

Unknown

Little Grebe

Uncertain

Unknown

Unknown

Great-crested Grebe

Stable

Unknown

Unknown

Most waterbird species are increasing in the UK. It is likely that increased water quality and warmer winter temperatures, reducing mortality, are at least partly responsible but there is little direct evidence on the causes of change for most species. For Mute Swan a ban on the use of lead weights substantially reduced mortality in the late 1970s and 1980s, particularly in England, resulting in a population increase (Wood et al 2019). Ingestion of lead shot similarly appears to be associated with population declines in wintering ducks (Green & Pain 2016).

Both Greylag Goose and Canada Goose extensively exploit urban habitats where low mortality rates of adult birds and a relatively high reproductive rate may both contribute to the population increases.

Study of breeding populations of ducks is difficult, the adults are not easy to catch and nest are hard to find and access, so less is known about these species than almost any other group of British birds.

Until the 1990s the Little Egret was a relatively uncommon species, but since the first nesting attempt in 1996 the population has increased rapidly (Musgrove 2002). There is little direct evidence as to why this might be, but a combination of warmer winters, increased water quality and provision of new habitat, in form of remediated gravel pits may all have played a part. It is likely other species, such as Purple Heron, Great White Egret and Cattle Egret may join the Little Egret as British breeding species in the near future, all have successfully bred for the first time in recent years. Herons and egrets, though, are susceptible to cold winters reducing prey availability and increasing mortality (Holt 2012), and the effects of the recent cold winters can be seen in downturns in the trend of both Little Egret and Grey Heron.

Raptors, Owls and Raven

Species

Long-term Trend

Primary Demographic

Primary Ecological

Red Kite

Rapid Increase (UK, Eng)

Unknown

Unknown

Hen Harrier

Probable Increase (UK)

Breeding Success

Other

Sparrowhawk

Moderate Increase (Eng)

Breeding Success

Other

Kestrel

Fluctuating (Eng)

Survival

Unknown

Merlin

Probable increase (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Hobby

Increase (UK, Eng)

Unknown

Unknown

Peregrine

Increase (UK, Eng, NI); Decline (Scot, Wales)

Breeding Success

Ban on organochlorine pesticides

Buzzard

Rapid Increase (Eng)

Breeding Success

Other

Barn Owl

Possible Decline (UK)

Survival

Other

Little Owl

Rapid Decline (UK, Eng)

Juvenile Survival

Agricultural Intensification

Tawny Owl

Shallow Decline (UK, Eng)

Unknown

Unknown

Raven

Increase (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

In the last few decades, most birds of prey have increased in number as a result of reduction in the use of certain pesticides, reductions in persecution and, for some species, changes in habitat availability.

During the 1950s and 1960s the widespread use of organochlorine and organophosphate pesticides reduced population numbers of many raptor species, of which the Peregrine and Sparrowhawk were perhaps best studied, by reducing breeding success (Newton 2013). Following a ban on their use, numbers gradually increased. Being towards the top of the food chain, though, birds of prey remain vulnerable to the risk of secondary poisoning, and there are current concerns more recently around the use of anticoagulant rodenticides which bear further investigation.

Concurrent with these changes, increased legal protection of these species led to a reduction in levels of control and persecution, particularly in lowland areas for species such as Buzzard, further contributing to increased numbers (Elliott & Avery 1991). Illegal persecution, in particular of Hen Harrier, remains a problem in some areas though (Murgatroyd et al. 2019). Similar considerations apply to the Raven, which has more also recently been subject to increased licenced control in Scotland; for this species understanding of population dynamics is therefore vital for licencing decisions (Wilson et al. 2019) .

Positive conservation measures have been particularly successful for two species. Provision of nest boxes for Barn Owl increased population numbers from a low-point in the 1960s, however numbers of this of this species fluctuate widely in response to cycles in vole abundance complicating quantification of this effect. Much more clear-cut has been the successful program of re-introductions of Red Kite into areas where they were formerly absent and whose numbers continue to increase (Carter 2001).

The two species found most commonly on farmland (Kestrel and Little Owl) are faring less well, probably due, at least in part, to changes (and intensification) in land management reducing the availability of prey. Habitat availability has apparently played a more positive role in Peregrine populations as they have (re-)colonised urban areas, where individuals have higher breeding success than those nesting in rural areas (Kettel et al 2018b).

Waders

Species

Long-term Trend

Primary Demographic

Primary Ecological

Oystercatcher

Moderate Increase (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Golden Plover

Probable Decline (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Lapwing

Rapid Decline (UK); Moderate Decline (Eng)

Breeding Success

Agricultural Intensification

Ringed Plover

Decline (UK)

Breeding Success

Unknown

Curlew

Moderate Decline (Eng)

Breeding Success

Agricultural Intensification

Common Sandpiper

Moderate Decline (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Redshank

Decline (UK)

Unknown

Agricultural Intensification

Woodcock

Probable Rapid Decline (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Snipe

Rapid Decline (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Breeding populations of most waders in Britain are declining, mostly as a result of habitat loss/intensification.

A key reason for the decline in breeding wader species, particularly Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew and Snipe has been the loss of wet grassland through drainage (Wilson et al. 2005a) and more intensive grassland management (Smart et al. 2008).

As they nest on the ground, waders are vulnerable to nest predation and densities of generalist predators are higher in UK than elsewhere in Europe (Roos et al. 2018). Habitat loss has concentrated breeding populations into smaller areas increasing their vulnerability (Bolton et al. 2007). Predation of nests is also an issue in other habitats, such as on the machair of the Uists where populations of Ringed Plover and other species are declining due to predation by (introduced) hedgehogs (Calladine et al. 2017).

Woodland Residents

Species

Long-term Trend

Primary Demographic

Primary Ecological

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Rapid Increase (UK, England)

Breeding Success

Decreased Competition for nests

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Rapid Decline

Unknown

Unknown

Jay

Fluctuating (UK, England)

Unknown

Unknown

Goldcrest

Fluctuating (England)

Unknown

Unknown

Blue Tit

Shallow Increase (UK, England)

Survival

Other

Great Tit

Moderate Increase (UK, England)

Survival

Other

Coal Tit

Fluctuating (UK, England)

Unknown

Unknown

Willow Tit

Rapid Decline (UK, England)

Unknown

Changes in Woodland

Marsh Tit

Rapid Decline (UK, England)

Survival

Changes in Woodland

Long-tailed Tit

Moderate Increase (Eng)

Survival

Weather

Nuthatch

Rapid Increase (UK, England)

Breeding Success

Unknown

Treecreeper

Fluctuating (England)

Survival

Weather

Wren

Rapid Increase (UK, England)

Survival

Climate Change

Blackbird

Shallow Decline (UK, England)

Survival

Unkown

Song Thrush Moderate Decline (UK, England) Juvenile survival Unknown

Robin

Moderate Increase (UK, England)

Productivity

Unknown

Dunnock

Moderate Decline (UK, England)

Survival

Agricultural Intensification

Chaffinch Fluctuating Survival Other

Lesser Redpoll

Rapid Decline (England)

Survival

Changes in Woodland

Siskin

Increase (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Most resident species of woodland habitats are increasing, with the exception of those that have specialised habitat requirements, notably Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Tit and Marsh Tit.

In part, these increases are due to flexible, generalist nature of the habitat requirements of these species. Most are species of the woodland edge and leafy suburban habitats, in particular, provide a suitable alternative habitat for many, with the extensive provision of food in gardens being an additional attractant. Indeed, those species that have increased their use of gardens the most, such as Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Siskin, have also shown the most positive population trends (Plummer et al. 2019).

In many species this has led to relatively high survival, perhaps particularly overwinter, although warmer winters will also have played a role, contributing to the population increases. One notable recent exception is the Greenfinch, where the population has declined recently as a result of reduced survival induced by a pathogen which is likely to be transmitted at garden feeders (Lawson et al. 2018).

The causes of decline in the woodland specialist species are less clear, but the scale of the changes, especially in Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (which is now so uncommon that we can no longer monitor its population through BBS), Lesser Redpoll and Willow Tit suggest fundamental changes in woodland habitat quality in the last few decades.

Woodland Migratory Species

Species

Long-term Trend

Primary Demographic

Primary Ecological

Nightjar

Uncertain

Unknown

Changes in Heath and woodland

Wood Warbler

Decline (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Chiffchaff

Rapid Increase (UK, Eng)

Survival

Unknown

Willow Warbler

Rapid Decline (Eng)

Breeding Success

Climate Change?

Blackcap

Rapid Increase (UK, Eng)

Unknown

Unknown

Garden Warbler

Moderate Decline (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Nightingale

Decline (Eng)

Unknown

Changes in Woodland

Spotted Flycatcher

Rapid Decline (UK, England)

Survival

Unknown

Pied Flycatcher

Decline (UK)

Survival

Wintering Habitat Change

Redstart

Fluctuating (UK, England)

Productivity

Unknown

Tree Pipit

Rapid Decline (England)

Breeding Success

Changes in Woodland

Population trends in migratory species in woodland habitats depend largely on migration distance, those with shorter migratory journeys (wintering in Europe or North Africa) tend to be increasing, while those with longer journeys (wintering in central Africa) tend to be declining (Thaxter et al. 2010).

Increases in the short-distance migratory species are likely a result of climate change and warmer winters, with species such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap able to winter successfully further North than previously, reducing the distance of their migratory journey (Plummer et al. 2015).

Reasons for the declines in the longer distance migratory species are less well known, although in at least some species, such as Nightingale, changes in breeding habitat are thought to be important (Hewson et al. 2005), although this may not be true for all species (Mallord et al. 2016).

Farmland Resident Species

Species

Long-term Trend

Primary Demographic

Primary Ecological

Woodpigeon

Rapid Increase (UK, England)

Survival

Agricultural Intensification

Starling

Rapid Decline (England)

Juvenile Survival

Agricultural Intensification

Song Thrush

Moderate Decline (UK, England)

Juvenile Survival

Unknown

Stonechat

Fluctuating (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Chaffinch

Fluctuating (UK)

Survival

Other

Bullfinch

Moderate Decline (UK, Eng)

Adult Survival

Agricultural Intensification

Greenfinch

Rapid Increase (Eng)

Survival

Availability of Food

Linnet

Rapid Decline (Eng)

Breeding Success

Agricultural Intensification

Goldfinch

Rapid Increase (Eng)

Survival

Availability of Food

Yellowhammer

Rapid Decline (UK, England)

Survival

Agricultural Intensification

Reed Bunting

Fluctuating (UK, England)

Survival

Agricultural Intensification

Corn Bunting

Rapid Decline (UK, England)

Unknown

Agricultural Intensification

Most resident species on farmland are declining, or have declined in the past, with trends in these generally reflecting fluctuations in food supply.

The declines in farmland bird are well studied and generally relate to the reduced availability of food resources, especially in seeds in winter for species like Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting (e.g. Robinson & Sutherland 2002). These declines generally reverse earlier increases in the 1950s and 60s as agriculture (particularly arable) expanded in extent from a previous low. Food availability in grassland habitats has also likely reduced affecting those that feed primarily on soil invertebrates such as Song Thrush and Starling. Implementation of agri-environment schemes to address these declines has resulted in some positive benefits, but the overall impact has been less clear-cut (Baker et al. 2012; Dadam & Siriwardena 2019).

In contrast, those species that are increasing have adapted to using other food resources, such as gardens in the case of Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Chaffinch, or oilseed rape in the case of Woodpigeon. Gains in population size of Chaffinch and Greenfinch have largely been reversed in recent years due to the spread of the trichomonosis (Lawson et al. 2018).

Farmland Migratory Species

Species

Long-term Trend

Primary Demographic

Primary Ecological

Turtle Dove

Rapid Decline (UK, England)

Breeding Success

Agricultural Intensification

Whitethroat

Rapid Decline (UK, England)

Survival

Changes on Wintering Grounds

Lesser Whitethroat

Uncertain (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Whinchat

Decline (UK)

Breeding Success

Agricultural Intensification

Wheatear

Possible Decline (UK)

Unknown

Unknown

Yellow Wagtail

Rapid Decline (UK, England)

Unknown

Agricultural Intensification

All migratory species living on farmland, with the possible exception of Lesser Whitethroat, are declining in both numbers and range and some (Whinchat, Wheatear) are now restricted to marginal habitats in more upland areas.

The declines have generally been caused by intensification of agricultural practices in both grass (Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail) (e.g. Vickery et al. 2001) and arable (Turtle Dove) (Browne & Aebischer 2001) habitats. The catastrophic decline of the Whitethroat in the late 1960s was caused by drought conditions on its wintering grounds in the Sahelian region of Africa from which it is yet to recover.

 

This report should be cited as: Woodward, I.D., Massimino, D., Hammond, M.J., Harris, S.J., Leech, D.I., Noble, D.G., Walker, R.H., Barimore, C., Dadam, D., Eglington, S.M., Marchant, J.H., Sullivan, M.J.P., Baillie, S.R. & Robinson, R.A. (2019) BirdTrends 2019: trends in numbers, breeding success and survival for UK breeding birds. BTO Research Report 722. BTO, Thetford. www.bto.org/birdtrends