Latest figures reveal current state of UK’s birds

More than one quarter of UK birds are in need of urgent conservation effort with curlew, puffin and nightingale joining the growing list of threatened species – but there is good news for some, a new report has highlighted.

The state of the UK’s birds 2016 (SUKB) report – the one-stop shop for all the latest results from bird surveys and monitoring studies – highlights how more than a quarter of the UK’s regularly-occurring bird species are now what conservationists refer to as ‘Red-listed’4.

 Downward trends for upland species continue, with five added to the Red List; giving cause for concern. Europe’s largest and most distinctive wader – the curlew – has been added to the Red List and is joined by dotterel, whinchat, grey wagtail and merlin. This highlights the fact many of the UK’s upland species are in increasing trouble with the total number of upland birds red-listed now 12.

Hosting up to a quarter of the global breeding population of curlew, the UK could be considered one of the most important countries in the world for breeding curlews. But in recent decades, numbers have almost halved due to habitat loss. With a much smaller population, predators are now having an effect on what was a resilient population. The curlew is considered ‘near threatened’ globally and with urgent action required to halt their decline, an International Single Species Action Plan has been created.

The report contains good news for some species however. Recent surveys are highlighted for golden eagles, cirl buntings, and winter thrushes. Golden eagle numbers have increased by 15% since the previous survey in 2003. There is good news for cirl buntings too, which are now estimated to have over 1,000 breeding pairs. The winter thrushes survey shows how important the UK is for continental migrating birds. 

In addition to these successes, a number of species have moved from the Red list to the Amber or Green lists. Two species, the bittern and nightjar, have moved from Red to Amber thanks to the creation and management of suitable habitat, and an additional 22 species have moved from the Amber to the Green list meaning they are now of the lowest conservation concern. Most notably the red kite, once one of the UK’s most threatened species, is now on the Green list thanks to the efforts of conservationists and landowners. These successes demonstrate that there is cause for hope for other Red-listed species and that targeted conservation action can make a real difference.

Derek Thomas MP, Species Champion for the manx shearwater, said, “This latest state of the UK’s birds report has shown a mix of results, with a worrying increase in the number of species joining the growing list of threatened species but also some very positive success stories.

 “As a Species Champion for the manx shearwater, I’m concerned that this species continues to be listed as Amber and I welcome continued conservation efforts to protect and improve numbers of these birds.”

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, added, “Curlews are instantly recognisable on winter estuaries or summer moors by their striking long, curved beak, long legs and evocative call. They are one of our most charismatic birds and also one of our most important. 

“The state of the UKs birds report shows that through land management, new research and existing data, the International Single Species Action Plan aims to understand the key causes of curlew declines across the UK and the Republic of Ireland and take action to reverse this trend.”