Today, the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS) network, comprising sixty-six European scientists, has published a landmark paper describing the methods, outputs and their use in research and conservation in Scientific Data. Professor Richard Gregory, RSPB Head of Species Monitoring and PECBMS project supervisor, explains.

Alongside the paper, the database containing supra-national and national population indices of 170 bird species from 28 countries are made publicly available. We believe that the publication will encourage further studies using this unique and powerful dataset based on decades of bird monitoring by thousands of skilled volunteer fieldworkers. Finally, this paper will help to inform and guide conservation science in Europe.

Blackcap © Radomir Salek

Data collection

The PECBMS has collected data on common and widespread bird species from national generic schemes in Europe since 2002. The coordination team calculates supranational European common bird indices and indicators of nature’s general state and health based on the large-scale and long-term dataset on changes in breeding bird populations across Europe.

Data collection follows prescribed sampling strategies and well-established fieldwork protocols. The number of countries providing their data has been gradually increasing, and so has been the number of bird species covered. The first set of indicators was released in 2003, and it was based on population trend information for 48 selected terrestrial breeding birds from annual surveys in 18 countries.

The most recent 2019 update provides trends for 170 species from 28 countries based on data gathered by fifteen thousand volunteers. This is an amazing achievement and has revealed some startling results.

Sedge warbler © Martin Pelanek

Use of the outputs

During the last decades, environmental health has generally worsened, and the policy and environmental protection responses have aimed to reduce the rate of biodiversity losses and to improve the state of nature. Monitoring is a critical requirement in assessing the performance of environmental policy processes and the effectiveness of various conservation measures and is required under international treaties, including EU directives.

Since birds are widespread, relatively easy to identify and count, sensitive to land use and climate change, and popular with the public, they serve as excellent indicators of the environment’s health and indicate sustainability of human use.

Lapwing © Vladimir Soltys

As a result, in 2005, the PECBMS indicators have been accepted as the first biodiversity indicators for the EU´s Structural and Sustainable Development Indicator. Moreover, the indicators have been used by other international institutions. For instance, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publishes Farm Birds Index, the European Environment Agency (EEA) presents the Common Bird Index, and Forest Europe informs on the status and trends in forests and forestry by offering the Common forest bird indicator.

The PECBMS data also feeds into global biodiversity assessments such as the Living Planet Index (LPI) and was recently showcased in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s flagship publication Global Biodiversity Outlook 5.

Besides the direct use in environmental policy, the PECBMS dataset has been widely used in scientific research. The papers have covered various topics such as the development of biodiversity and bird indicators in general, exploration of driving forces laying behind farmland or forest bird population trends, development of climate change indicators, investigation of the land-use change, and its impact on farmland birds.

Check the list of scientific papers using the PECBMS data.

The benefits of the data paper

By publishing a data paper, we achieved a peer-reviewed, valuable publication that could be cited, promoted, and readily used in the policy, conservation and research. The paper sets out in detail the nature of data collection across Europe, the statistical basis and methods used to create the database and its derived products.

PECBMS workshop 2015 © Vojtech Brlík

In six open-source datasets saved at the Zenodo repository, we publish:

  • European supra-national and national species indices
  • European species trends for the whole period and three shorter periods (1990 onwards, 2000 onwards and for the last ten years of the data)
  • a matrix of countries providing data for population size estimates of individual species
  • a list of details on 36 national monitoring schemes from 28 countries providing data to the PECBMS

We strive to maintain the database with annual updates. The supranational species indices will be yearly updated and available through the PECBMS database deposited at Zenodo to ensure the data’s long-term public availability.

We believe this unique database, based on decades of bird monitoring alongside the comprehensive summary of its methodology will facilitate and encourage further use of the PECBMS results and improve both our understanding of environmental change and help tackle the biodiversity crisis.

For the paper in Scientific Data: Long-term and large-scale multispecies dataset tracking population changes of common European breeding birds.

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