Climate Change and the UK's Birds

Kittiwake. Liz Cutting

Author(s): Pearce-Higgins, J.W.

Published: November 2021  

Publisher: British Trust for Ornithology

Download article 1.73 MB application/pdf

Climate change is already impacting the UK’s birds.

An increasing body of research demonstrates the impacts of climate change on bird species across the globe, revealing a range of responses.

In this report, we assess the impact that climate change has already had on UK bird populations by relating their long-term trends to separately published species’ responses to climate change, temperature and rainfall.

Within the UK, breeding seabirds and upland breeding birds are the two groups most vulnerable to climate change. Fourteen seabird species are regarded as being at risk of negative climate change impacts. These include Puffin, for which a population decline across Britain and Ireland of 89% is projected by 2050.

Conversely, climate change appears to be contributing to population increases and expansion in breeding waterbirds, including species colonising from continental Europe. Southerly-distributed waterbirds, coastal species and heathland species (see supplementary material, below) are those most likely to benefit from climate change.

Overall, a quarter of our breeding species appear to be negatively affected and a quarter may be responding positively; the remaining breeding species that have been studied appear relatively unaffected by climate change.

There are significant gaps in our knowledge for other species, notably our wintering bird populations.

Download the Climate Change report (PDF, 1.73 MB) Download supplementary information (PDF, 138.08 KB)
Puffin. Sarah Kelman

The Climate Change Appeal

Our best assessment shows that failure to meet net-zero carbon risks the UK losing almost 90% of its breeding Puffins by 2050. You can help us continue research into one of the most pressing drivers of change in our natural world.

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