State of UK’s Birds 2012 report: shocking decline

Since 1966, the UK has been losing individual birds at a rate of one million every year, according to a report published today (19th Nov 2012).

These shocking statistics are contained in the State of UK’s Birds 2012.

Published by a coalition of conservation organisations, this report charts the ups and downs of the nation’s bird populations over recent decades.

This year’s report has raised fresh concerns for the fate of two wintering seaducks, whose range in winter is strongly associated with Scotland, the velvet scoter and the long tailed duck.

Both have suffered massive declines in the Baltic Sea, which have been mirrored in Scotland, where the bulk of the UK population are found.

Numbers have fallen so sharply (65% and 60% respectively since the first Baltic Sea survey in 1992) that both species are now considered threatened with extinction globally,

Another suite of species to have suffered particularly significant declines are seabirds, of which Scotland holds 45% of Europe’s breeding population.

Since 1986, when a national seabird-monitoring programme began, 10 of the 18 monitored seabird species have suffered long-term declines, with populations of Arctic skua and roseate tern declining by around three quarters (72% and 75% respectively) during that period. As such, both species are red-listed as of high conservation concern, with the roseate tern edging close to extinction in Scotland.

Similarly, kittiwake numbers have more than halved (55%) over the same period , while other once abundant gull species, such as the herring gull and great black-backed gull, have declined by 24% and 35% respectively.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland says: ‘It is shocking and disappointing to think that over the past half century the UK has lost one in five of its individual birds, many of which are of such importance to Scotland.

‘There have been many changes across the UK that have affected birds, including shifts in land-use, habitat loss, climate change, the rise in some non-native species and a lack of food.

‘It is therefore vital that, where possible, we try to support declining species, be it by reducing emissions, making more space for wildlife on our farmland, undertaking further research to understand the causes of decline or, in the case of seabirds and threatened wintering species building resilience into populations through the designation and positive management of marine protected areas.’

Susan Davies, SNH Director of Policy & Advice, says:  ‘The fall in the number of breeding seabirds and the drastic drop in wintering long-tailed ducks and velvet scoters show how important it is to continue working together, with our partners and volunteers, to protect these vulnerable species.

‘We’re only aware of these declines because of the huge effort put in by volunteers. I’d like to thank these terrific ‘citizen scientists’ and encourage anyone with an interest in helping Scottish birds to volunteer. It’s vital that we continue to monitor the state of Scotland’s birds and use this information to guide actions in the future.’

Richard Hearn, Head of Species Monitoring at WWT says: ‘Sea duck numbers in Europe have crashed and they urgently need conservation. Velvet scoter overwintering in the UK have gone from several thousand birds to less than a hundred in just a few years, and the picture for long-tailed duck is similar.

‘Several other species have also shown large declines. By tying our findings with similar reports from the Baltic and elsewhere, we’re getting a clearer understanding of the problem, but to be effective we need all countries to work more closely together.’

As well as seabirds and wintering wildfowl, the State of UK Birds 2012 outlines the population trends of a host of species, from popular garden birds, to farmland wildlife and species of high conservation concern.

Dr Andy Musgrove of the BTO, who worked on compiling these figures, says: ‘We have learned a great deal about bird numbers in the UK and, particularly, how they have changed through time. Amongst individual species, whilst there have been some winners, the number of losers is greater and the long-term picture is sobering. There is still more to learn though, and we need the continuing support of ever greater numbers of volunteer birdwatchers, on whose efforts all of these numbers are based.’

David Stroud, of JNCC, says: ‘This report highlights the value of undertaking a periodic ‘stock-check’ of bird numbers in the UK – information central to many aspects of conservation.  Thanks to the efforts of the bird watching community, such assessments are readily available within the UK, but these data do not exist for most of our Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.  We need to strengthen efforts to establish routine survey and monitoring in these areas in the light of their global importance for many bird species.’

The State of the UK’s Birds 2012 report is produced by a coalition of four NGOs -  RSPB, BirdLife International, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust – and the UK Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies  – Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), Natural England (NE), Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. (JNCC).

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