Glimmers of hope for UK's wild birds

07 Nov 2019 | No. 2019-38

Published today, the Wild Bird Populations in the UK, 1970-2018 report shows that after years of decline, and despite a poor 2018 breeding season, there are the signs of recovery for at least some of our wild birds.

The Wild Bird Populations in the UK 1970-2018 report is an annual stocktake of a suite of species groups, termed 'indicators', of which farmland, woodland, breeding wetland, wintering wetland and seabirds are included.

The indicators are intended to broadly reflect the environmental condition of different landscapes and these are presented alongside an 'all species indicator', which is made up of trends for 130 different widespread bird species. The 'all species' indicator shows that over the long-term (1970-2018), positives and negatives are balanced - with 29% of species on the up and 28% experiencing decline. The short-term trend, 2012-2017 delivers a similar story, with 35% of those species increasing and 33% decreasing.

It will come as no surprise that our farmland birds are not doing very well at all but there are signs of recovery here too. The long-term picture is still pretty grim, with 62% of the species monitored, 19 in all, showing a decline. However, the short-term picture is more positive with 32% of farmland bird species showing an increase in their populations, 42% stable and 26% falling between 2012 and 2018.

Within the farmland group, Skylark, Corn Bunting, Reed Bunting and Linnet populations have all shown short-term increases and Tree Sparrow, Starling, Lapwing and Kestrel have all remained stable over the five-year period. Grey Partridge populations are still in decline and showing no sign of recovery.

The woodland birds indicator is 30% lower than it was in 1970; the short-term picture is not too good either with more than half of the woodland birds monitored, 37 species in all, showing declines. Even here there are small glimmers of hope, the short-term trend for Song Thrush showing a marked 22% increase against a backdrop of long-term decline.
The trend for water and wetland birds reflects the fortunes of 26 species, of which roughly a third each are declining, stable and increasing. The Cetti’s Warbler has increased rapidly both over the long-term and the short-term, whilst the Yellow Wagtail, associated with wet grasslands, has shown a strong decline for both time periods.

It’s a bit of a rollercoaster for our seabirds with 38% of the 13 species monitored declining over the long-term but 46% increasing over the short-term. Strong declines have been seen for both Arctic Skua and Herring Gull populations over both the long-term and short-term, whilst in the short-term several species have shown a strong increase, including Razorbill and Great Black-backed Gull.

Dr David Noble, Principal Ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), said, "Despite a wide range of pressures continuing to affect many of our UK bird populations, and driving declines in many of our habitat specialists, there are a few positive stories where species could be responding to more nature-friendly management and spreading northward to suitable landscapes."
To read the full report click here

Contact Details
Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5:30pm Mon-Thurs), (9am to 5pm Friday)
Mobile: 07585440910
Email: press [at] ()

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 Notes to editors

The Wild Bird Populations in the UK, 1970 to 2018 report is published annually by DEFRA.

Bird populations have long been considered to provide a good indication of the broad state of wildlife in the UK. This is because they occupy a wide range of habitats and respond to environmental pressures that also operate on other groups of wildlife. In addition, there are considerable long-term data on trends in bird populations, allowing for comparison between the short term and long term. Because they are a well-studied taxonomic group, drivers of change for birds are better understood than for other species groups, which enable better interpretation of any observed changes. Birds also have huge cultural importance and are highly valued as a part of the UK’s natural environment by the general public. However, the bird indicators presented in this publication are not intended, in isolation, as indicators of the health of the natural environment more widely.

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

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