Breeding Bird Survey results show species decline across UK

The latest annual report of the joint BTO, JNCC and RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is now available.

tawny owl

The report contains trends of 112 species of common and widespread bird and mammal species across all habitats and areas of the UK during the period 1994-2013. These trends are the key metrics needed for assessments such as those featured in last year’s State of Nature Report, RSPB’s annual The state of the UK’s birds report, Wild Bird Indicators and Birds of Conservation Concern‘s red, amber and green lists.

The report reveals the species that are thriving, but also highlights the declines in some of the UK’s greatest conservation priorities.

One of the greatest conservation successes is the nationally threatened red kite, which is listed as an ‘amber’ species for priority concern by JNCC. These beautiful birds are reported to have increased in population by 805% in less than 20 years, which is welcome news for a species thought to have only 1,600 breeding pairs in the UK.

The other big ‘winners’ include woodland birds such as great spotted woodpeckers (+139% since 1994), nuthatches (+91%), blackcaps (+137%), and wetland breeders such as greylag geese (+203%), gadwall (+107%) and tufted duck (+42%). However, many of our farmland birds continue to struggle, with further declines in grey partridge (-56%), skylark (-24%) and corn bunting (-39%). Turtle doves have shown the greatest decline of all, falling by 88% – that’s a halving in numbers every six years, a truly terrifying rate of disappearance.

The dove’s rival for the unwanted distinction of ‘fastest decliner’ is willow tit (-83%), indicating that while some woodland birds may be flourishing, all is not well amongst our trees.

Unfortunately, it’s also been a bad year for breeding birds. Of 112 species for which the BBS reports trends on, 76 declined between 2012 and 2013. Of the 36 species to have shown significant changes between the years, a staggering 34 (94%) are in decline.

The full report gives trends for the UK and for many birds, for the UK’s constituent countries and English regions. It also gives updates on the UK’s mammals — it may come as a surprise to many that the Breeding Bird Survey is the best monitoring scheme for our mammals!

The Breeding Bird Survey relies on volunteers and some areas and habitats are surveyed less than others. The BTO are always looking to improve coverage in the more poorly-covered areas; the  survey offers a great way to get out and about, enjoy some bird watching and contribute to conservation at the same time! The survey involves two early-morning visits to a randomly located one km square recording all birds seen or heard while walking across the area. The BTO website has full details on how to take part in the survey.

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