Bird indicators

The latest updates of the UK and England bird indicators based on population trends of wild birds, were published on 18th May 2017. These indicators are part of the government’s suite of biodiversity indicators and show how the fortunes of birds of farmland, woodland, waterways and wetlands, and marine and coastal areas have fared between 1970 and 2015.

The information used to calculate these trends are collected almost entirely by volunteers participating in a number of carefully-designed bird monitoring schemes such as the Breeding Bird Survey, the Waterways Breeding Bird Survey, the Wetland Bird Survey and special species surveys. Results from seabird monitoring by JNCC and its partners are also used. The composite indicators are produced jointly by the BTO and RSPB under contract to Defra.

The full wild bird indicators document for the UK is available from Defra, along with the full document for England.

Key messages for the UK

  • There has been little overall change in the UK all-species indicator since the early 1990s (Figure 1). However, between 2014 and 2015 there was a significant increase of 5%, such that the unsmoothed indicator was 2% below its 1970 level in 2015.
  • In 2015, the breeding farmland bird index in the UK was less than half of its 1970 level – a decline of 51%. Between 2009 and 2014 the smoothed index, which takes into account annual fluctuations, showed a significant 8% decline. However, between 2014 and 2015 the unsmoothed UK farmland bird index showed a significant 6% increase.
  • In 2015, the breeding woodland bird index in the UK was 18% lower than its 1970 level – up slightly from the second lowest level ever recorded in 2013 (27% below the 1970 level). In the short term between 2009 and 2014, the smoothed index showed no significant change.
  • In 2015, the breeding water and wetland bird index in the UK was 7% lower than its 1975 level and between 2009 and 2014 the smoothed index, which takes into account annual fluctuations, also showed a significant 7% decline. However, between 2014 and 2015 the unsmoothed breeding water and wetland bird index showed a significant 6% increase.
  • In 2015, the breeding seabird index in the UK stood at 22% below its level in 1986 – a small improvement on the lowest level ever recorded in 2013 (27% below the 1986 level). Most of the decline has occurred since 2003; there has been an ongoing decline of 5% in the short term between 2009 and 2014.
  • In the winter of 2014-15 the wintering waterbird index in the UK stood at 88% higher than its 1975-76 level. The index peaked in the late 1990s, and has declined since, with the smoothed index falling by 8% in the short term between the winters of 2008-09 and 2013-14.

UK wild bird populations by habitat 1970-2015

Figure 1. Populations of wild birds in the UK, by habitat, 1970 to 2015.

Source: BTO, Defra, JNCC, RSPB.

Note:

  1. Figures in brackets show the number of species.
  2. Graph shows unsmoothed trends (dashed lines) and smoothed trends (solid lines). No smoothed trend is available for seabirds as individual species population trends are based on full counts at colonies or wetland and coastal sites.

Key messages for England

  • In 2015 the England all-species indicator stood at 2% below its 1970 level (Figure 2) and, between 2014 and 2015, the smoothed indicator showed a small but significant 2% decline.
  • In 2015, the breeding farmland bird index in England showed a slightly greater decline in 2015 than compared to the index for the UK as a whole, with a 54% decline from its 1970 level. However, the smoothed index showed a significant on-going decline of 7% between 2009 and 2014, which is slightly lower than the on-going decline seen in the UK as a whole over that time-period.
  • In 2015, the breeding woodland bird index in England showed a slightly greater decline in 2015 than compared to the index for the UK as a whole, with a 21% decline from its 1970 level. In the short term between 2009 and 2014, the smoothed index for England, as for the UK as a whole, showed no significant change.
  • In 2015, the breeding water and wetland bird index in England exceeded its 1975 level by 8% and between 2014 and 2015 showed a significant increase of 12%. However, similar to the UK as a whole, between 2009 and 2014 the smoothed index for water and wetland bird populations in England showed a significant 5% decline.
  • In 2015, the breeding seabird index for England was 22% above its 1986 level – the highest level ever recorded. This increase is mainly driven by the continued increase in the index for subsurface piscivores (i.e. seabird species that forage by diving) which showed a 149% increase between 1986 and 2015.
  • In the winter of 2014-15 the wintering waterbird index in England stood at 74% higher than its 1975-76 level. The index peaked in the late 1990s, and has declined since, with the smoothed index falling by 9% in the short term between the winters of 2008-09 and 2013-14.

England wild bird populations by habitat 1970-2015

Figure 2. Populations of wild birds in England by habitat, 1970 to 2015.

Source: BTO, Defra, JNCC, RSPB.

Note:

  1. Figures in brackets show the number of species.
  2. Graph shows unsmoothed trends.