The European Red List of Birds, published this month by the European Commission, reveals that habitat loss and climate change have caused the declines of 20 per cent of European bird species.
The report’s foreword by novelist Margaret Atwood and poet Graeme Gibson minces no words: “First the birds, then us. Unless we pay attention, we’ll be on the Red List next.”
After three years of work, led by BirdLife International and financed by the European Commission, this report will set the base for European conservation and policy work over the coming years. The Red List is widely recognised as the most authoritative and objective system for assessing the extinction risk of species.
Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Policy says that: “These reports contain some worrying statistics, but they also show the value of well-targeted actions to protect the biodiversity we depend on both economically and socially. Our task is to find ways of building on those successes and spreading them to other areas. They are also a valuable input to our on-going Fitness Check. Europe needs nature legislation that is fit for purpose.”
Iván Ramírez, Head of Conservation at BirdLife International (European and Central Asian Division) said: “The new European Red List of Birds is a call to arms for the conservation of our natural world. It is inspiring to see that many species targeted by conservation efforts and supported by key tools such as the Birds Directive and the LIFE programme are recovering. Yet it is shocking to see many species that used to be common now listed as threatened. It is deeply worrying to contemplate the possibility of a world with no puffins, European turtle doves, northern lapwings or oystercatchers“.
And Christina Ieronymidou, the European Species Programme Officer at BirdLife, commented: “The Red List tells us that we have done a decent job at rescuing the rarest species by protecting their last strongholds and taking actions such as eradication of invasive species and insulation of killer power lines. We are now faced with much bigger challenges, from the ecological degradation of our farmland to climate change. These problems require a much broader and deeper response.”
The very bad news
13 per cent (67 species) of the 533 species assessed are threatened at European level, of which 10 are Critically Endangered (the highest threat level). Among them some iconic birds such as: sociable lapwing, yellow-breasted bunting, slender-billed curlew (which is probably already extinct) and, of local importance, Balearic Shearwater. The study also found that 18 species are Endangered and an additional 39 Vulnerable.
A total of 29 species have been uplisted since 2004, having been formerly considered to be of Least Concern but now threatened or Near Threatened in Europe. These species include, of local importance, European turtle dove, oystercatcher, puffin, razorbill, meadow pipit, kittiwake and common pochard. Some further species that were identified as being in trouble a decade ago have still not improved including Egyptian vulture, greater spotted eagle and little bustard but also aquatic warbler and northern lapwing.
There is some good news
Improvements include a total of 20 species which were previously considered regionally threatened, and are now classified as Least Concern in Europe (although some are still globally threatened). These include Dalmatian pelican, ferruginous duck, stone-curlew, black kite, lesser kestrel, long-legged buzzard, gull-billed tern, black-throated diver and great bustard. Another 25 species are still threatened in Europe, but now have a lower extinction risk than a decade ago, and have seen their threat level downlisted. For example, Zino’s petrel and Azores bullfinch, both previously considered to be Critically Endangered, are now classified as Endangered.
Download the European Red List of Birds here