In December this year Birds of Conservation Concern 4 was published, highlighting the status of birds in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. The results remind us how important it is to get as much information about UK bird numbers as possible, worth bearing in mind with Big Garden Birdwatch on the horizon.  

At a glance, from 1996 to 2015, the number of species which are now no longer breeding have increased and the number of species on the red list have increased too. In fact, this document has placed more species into the red list than ever before. There is bad news as previously common species become increasingly rarer. But there are examples of conservation success where hard work and well directed funding has made a noticeable impact.

Geese, puffins and wrynecks 

Starting with those who aren’t doing so well, some species have made a definite faster decline than others. For example, the White-fronted Goose has dropped from the green list in 2009 to the red list in 2015. The Long-tailed Duck being another example. The Temminck’s Stint, Wryneck and European Serin have made the worrying descent into now not breeding in the UK at all. I quote ‘the wryneck is the first once-widespread species to have been lost as a breeding bird from the UK in nearly 200 years’1. If you split the red list into habitats, the one worst off is the woodland. This has the largest proportion of birds on the red list.

However the largest growth on the red list in terms of habitats comes from species in the uplands (e.g. the Curlew and Dotterel). Farmland species are also still of concern. For example it can’t escape your attention that Turtle Doves are still declining at an alarming rate. Breeding seabirds aren’t doing too well either, the Puffin amongst others joined the red list. It can’t be denied that this is all worrying news but it also reaffirms the need for action. Climate change talks are currently going on and doesn’t this give evidence to why we need to frankly hurry up! The evidence is here. Climate change is disrupting marine food chains, the climate that some of our breeding birds need is moving north and it’s also negatively affecting the flyways that many of our species use. Time to do more I think.

More on turtle doves

Putting this into context, Turtle Doves (which I’m afraid are well on the red list) are the fastest declining UK bird. Every six years the population halves. If this continues, in the next couple of years they may join the list of ‘former breeder’ in the next Birds of Conservation Concern. To save this species, the threats on migration needed to be studied. In the summer of 2014, the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science tagged Titan with a satellite tracking device. They were then able to watch his migration in 2014 and 2015. Overall they solved the mystery of the dove’s migration and the route can now be studied and hopefully protected to help save this bird. It’s a fascinating story and shows how funding in the right areas with people working together for the right aims can produce results. Hopefully this will one day help to move this species out of the red list.

Credit: RSPB Images

It’s not all doom and gloom. Conservation has been proven to work by this review. The Bittern and the Nightjar are examples of this because they have moved from the red list to the amber list. The creation and management of applicable habitats has allowed these species to start making a recovery. Overall the green list has increased by 22 species. So I’d say it’s time to use these stats for good. We know what’s in trouble and what habitats are containing the most threatened birds. I know it’s not simple, but with directed funding and protection of the areas most at risk which are rich in wildlife, surely we can try and slow this decline in populations and biodiversity? I don’t think this has ever been as important as it is now.

1: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdsofconservationconcern4_tcm9-410743.pdf

Full report: http://www.britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/BoCC4.pdf

The story of Titan: http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/tracking/turtle-doves/index.aspx and http://operationturtledove.org/migration-mystery-of-uks-fastest-declining-migrant-bird-solved

Leanne :)

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