Benefits of protected area networks for breeding bird populations and communities
Author(s): Sanderson, F.J., Wilson, J.D., Franks, S.E. & Buchanan, G.M.
Published: December 2022
Journal: Animal Conservation
Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1111/acv.12832
While there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that protected areas are effective at protecting natural habitats, their benefits for birds and other species have been less well-studied. This study uses data from the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) to explore the effectiveness of the Natura 2000 protected areas for UK bird species of conservation concern (Red and Amber-Listed). In addition, the study also examines the effectiveness of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), which receive a lower degree of legislative protection than SPAs or SACs.
The authors used BBS data from two periods, the first covering 1995–1999 (before the majority of Natura 2000 sites were designated), and the second from 2011–2015 (immediately prior to the UK’s departure from the European Union). This approach enabled the authors to test the influence of protected areas on bird populations, revealing that the abundance of birds of conservation concern was higher on BBS squares that were within Natura 2000 sites, and on squares with a greater proportion of Natura 2000 coverage within 5 km. Interestingly, the abundance of birds of conservation concern was not higher on BBS squares with a greater proportion of SSSI-only coverage, though it was positively related to proportion of SSSI coverage in the surrounding 5 km.
These results demonstrate that the abundance of birds of conservation concern increases with protected area coverage, both within the survey square itself and in the surrounding area. This suggests that there is a ‘spillover effect’, in which protected sites may benefit birds in the surrounding area. The effect was greater for SPAs and SACs than for SSSIs. The study highlights both the value and benefits of this high level of legislative protection upon which the UK continues to rely to meet a number of its international commitments for nature.
Protected sites will always be a key tool for securing the future of birds and wider biodiversity in the UK, so it is vital that we understand where and how this protection works best. This study also demonstrates the critical role BBS data play in enabling such assessments to be carried out.
NotesWe are indebted to all the volunteers who were responsible for collecting BBS data. We are grateful to Kate Jennings, Alistair Taylor and Isobel Mercer for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript, and to the referees, associate editor and editor whose comments greatly improved the text.
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