Mixed bag for Scottish seedeaters

06 May 2020 | No. 2020-14

The latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report, covering population trends for the UK’s bird species, shows that sparrows are doing better in Scotland than the rest of the UK. This knowledge is generated by an army of volunteers, walking urban streets through to mountain tops to monitor Scottish birds. 

In 2019, volunteers in Scotland surveyed an impressive 605 1-km survey sites! But what do their efforts tell us from within the list of 69 monitored bird species?

The House and Tree Sparrow populations have shown increases of 51% and 426% respectively since the survey began in 1994. Both are showing slight increases south of the border too but nothing to compare with Scotland.

Of course, these relatively recent increases are framed against a backdrop of huge declines pre-BBS, during the 1980s, with widespread agricultural change taking its toll at this time. It is thanks to the long run of data collected by volunteers that scientists are able to see these changes and look at ways to help these birds in the future.

The Chaffinch is a familiar bird in Scotland, being a frequent visitor to garden feeding stations, but the long-term data is showing fluctuations in its population that might be cause for concern. The 2019 Breeding Bird Survey results show that during the last 10 years the Chaffinch population has fallen by 18% in Scotland against a backdrop of long-term increase. The cause of this recent decline is largely unknown and more research is needed to understand what might be driving it.

In Scotland, it is possible to monitor the population changes for these bird species and many others published in this latest report thanks to the dedication of the BBS volunteers who go out every spring to survey Scotland’s birdlife.

Ben Darvill, Development and Engagement Manager, BTO Scotland, said
“Among the headline-grabbing declines, it's heartening to see that there are some good news stories, too. Goldfinches, for example - a favourite for many at bird feeding stations - have increased by 224% in Scotland. Things are seldom static, however, and the decline experienced by Chaffinch illustrates how quickly things can change. Huge thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who contribute their time, skills and effort to collect the valuable data which underpins the BBS trends."

Jeremy Wilson, RSPB’s Head of Research, Scotland, said “As always, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many volunteers whose time, skill and knowledge are the foundations of this crucial long-term data set.  The 2019 report shows stark contrasts in fortunes of birds across Scotland’s farmed landscapes, from the severe declines of waders such as Lapwing and Curlew, to heartening recovery of our two sparrow species, Goldfinches and Yellowhammers. In other UK countries, Government has funded comprehensive analyses to understand how their agri-environment schemes and other measures may be supporting recovery of birds of conservation concern and where they may be under-performing; we hope such analyses will also take place in Scotland in due course.”

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, and the report is published by BTO annually on behalf of the partnership.

For more information on the ups and downs of our birds the full report can be accessed here.

Contact Details

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)
Mobile: 07585440910
Email: press [at] bto.org ()

Images are available for use alongside this News Release and can be downloaded from the BTO Digital Image Library. Please visit https://btodigitalimagelibrary.photodeck.com/-/galleries/press-images/bto-pr2020-bbs and enter the password BTOPR2020GREENFINCH to access this gallery.

Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2020-14 if you have any queries.

Notes to editors

Population trends for 117 bird species in the UK 
have been calculated in the latest BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) annual report. BBS is the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common breeding birds.

In 2019, 4005 BBS squares were covered in the UK by volunteers. The latest report can be found at www.bto.org/bbs-report

The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Partnership: The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, with fieldwork conducted by volunteers.

APEP4 is a periodic report containing population estimate for UK birds, more can be found on this here 

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a UK-wide project aimed at keeping track of changes in the breeding populations of widespread bird species. The BBS involves over 2,700 participants who survey more than 4,000 sites across the UK, enabling us to monitor the population changes of 117 bird species. Knowing to what extent bird populations are increasing or decreasing is fundamental to bird conservation.

This important survey is carried out by volunteer birdwatchers throughout the UK, who receive no financial reward or expenses for their efforts. We are indebted to them for their tremendous support.

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 Belfast (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

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