Jan 21

Wild bird populations in the UK appear to be falling dramatically, according to new government figures released yesterday.

By comparing UK wild bird populations from the 1970s to wild populations in 2009, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has revealed some worrying trends.

Grey partridge photo

The rate of decline in farmland birds such as the grey partridge has increased over recent years.

Some of the worst hit farmland birds, such as the grey partridge, turtle dove, starling, tree sparrow, corn bunting and yellow wagtail, have all declined by around 70% since the 1970s.  

Woodland birds have also been hard hit, with species such as the blackbird, dunnock, song thrush and tawny owl all showing worrying declines.

Among the wading birds, the mallard, oystercatcher and ringed plover are just some of those in decline.

Common ringed plover photo

Populations of the common ringed plover have declined substantially since the 1970s.

Only seabird populations appear to have remained relatively stable, although figures indicate that some species, such as the kittiwake and the arctic skua, are in decline. 

Habitat change is responsible for fewer nesting sites for the majority of the UK’s wild bird species. Food shortages have also been cited as a major cause of the decline in farmland birds. Agricultural intensification has had a huge impact on wild birds that favour wet grassland and moorland habitats, while less vegetation cover and scrub, overgrazing by deer, drainage of nearby farmland and changing winter climate may all be factors affecting vulnerable woodland bird populations.

There are some success stories. On farmland, wood pigeon and jackdaw populations have doubled, and stock dove and greenfinch numbers have risen by 50%. In the woodlands of the UK, the blackcap, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, nuthatch and long-tailed tit are all thriving. In the wetlands, there has been a more than tenfold increase in the Svalbard light-bellied brent goose, and a sixfold rise in black-tailed godwit.

Great-spotted woodpecker

The great-spotted woodpecker population has more than doubled since the 1970s.

Richard Benyon, Minister for the Natural Environment in England, said: “Our bird populations are a good indicator of the wider health of our environment and it is clear that more needs to be done to support the recovery of farmland and woodland birds. Many people will have a part to play and we look forward to working with charities and landowners to reverse this trend.”

Read more about the decline in UK birds in this Guardian article.

Find out more about birds on ARKive.

Visit the British Trust for Ornithology Website.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author