Wild bird populations in UK, 1970-2011

Press release from UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

Bird populations have long been considered by scientists to provide a good indication of the broad state of wildlife because birds occupy a wide range of habitats, they tend to be near or at the top of food chains and there are considerable long-term data on changes in bird populations from a range of national surveys and monitoring schemes coordinated by expert organisations. Birds also have huge cultural importance and are viewed as a highly valued part of the UK’s natural environment by the general public.

Defra 2012. www.defra.gov.ukThe latest annual statistics present trends up to 2011 in wild bird populations in the UK and highlight that:

  • When viewed together, the status of common native breeding bird species in UK appear to have changed      little compared with 40 years ago. However, there has been considerable variation between individual bird species and groups of species that share the same broad habitats, and there have been some large losses in once abundant species, particularly house sparrow and starling. The all-species index showed a small but significant decline of 2% from 2005 to 2010;
  • Common starling. Photo by Mick DrydenAlthough the largest decreases in farmland bird populations occurred between the late seventies and the early nineties, there has been a pronounced recent decline of 13% since 2003. Historically, the decrease has been driven mainly by species that are restricted to, or highly dependent, on farmland habitats (the ‘specialists’). However, there has also been a decline in species that are associated with a wider range of habitats (the ‘generalists’) following a peak in 2003;
  • There has been little recent change in UK woodland bird populations, with the greatest decline occurring from the late eighties until the mid nineties. In the late    nineties, populations of generalist species started to increase but the populations of specialist species continued to decline;
  • In 2011 breeding water and wetland bird populations in the UK were at around the same level as they were in 1975, although there has been a decline of 14%since 2000;
  • Seabird populations in the UK have fallen by 12% since a peak in 1999; however, they remain 27% higher than when data collection began in 1970;
  • In the winter of 2010-11 populations of wintering waterbirds in the UK were 93% higher than in the winter of 1975-6, although there has been a 7% decline in numbers since their peak in 1996-7.

The bird population indices have been compiled in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

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