A tale of two plovers

Ringed Plover, photograph by Jill Pakenham
Newly published research by BTO has shed light on the differing fortunes of two small wading bird species breeding in the UK. Little Ringed Plover first bred in the UK in Hertfordshire in 1938. Breeding numbers have increased steadily since, accompanied by a range expansion to the north and west. The species is Green-listed in the UK Birds of Conservation Concern. The Ringed Plover, by contrast, is on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern Red list. Both species were surveyed in 1984, and again in 2007.

The new study estimated that the number of Little Ringed Plover breeding in the UK had risen by 71% between 1984 and 2007, to 1,239 pairs. The species’ core range remained in England, although breeding pairs have spread further into Wales, northern England and south and east Scotland. Gravel and sand pits were the favoured habitat for Little Ringed Plover, but its relative importance had declined compared to 1984. The species’ use of shingle habitat had grown, following range expansion into northern and western regions.

Over the same time period, the breeding population of Ringed Plover in the UK was estimated to have fallen by 37%, to 5,438 pairs. The greatest declines were reported in England and Scotland, with numbers more stable in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. Decreases were marked in both coastal and inland areas, including at sites where Little Ringed Plover numbers had increased. The two species have similar inland habitat preferences, so the reasons underlying the different trends are not clear. Potential factors contributing to the decline in Ringed Plover at coastal sites include disturbance from human recreational activities as well as habitat change elsewhere.

Although the UK populations of both species appear have stabilised recently, greater conservation and protection efforts are required at coastal sites to ensure local breeding numbers are prevented from dropping further.

Related publications:

Conway G.J., Austin G.E., Handschuh M., Drewitt A.L. & Burton N.H.K. 2019
Breeding populations of Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius and Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula in the United Kingdom in 2007 Bird Study.
Link to publication (DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2018.1563045).


The Breeding Plover Survey was funded by Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment & Heritage Service (Northern Ireland), Anglian Water, the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and Mr G. S. Harris; BTO funding came from the legacy-based fund Birds in Trust, and the Christmas and New Year Bird Count. The survey of Ringed Plovers on the Uists and Benbecula was funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB.

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