C5. Birds of the wider countryside and at sea

a. Farmland birds

b. Woodland birds

c. Wetland birds

d. Seabirds

e. Wintering waterbirds

 

Type: State Indicator

 

Indicator Description

The indicator shows relative changes in the abundance of common native birds of farmland and woodland and of freshwater and marine habitats in the UK.  Bird populations have long been considered to provide a good indication of the broad state of wildlife in the UK.  This is because they occupy a wide range of habitats and respond to environmental pressures that also operate on other groups of wildlife. In addition, there are considerable long-term data on trends in bird populations, allowing for comparison between short term and long term changes.  Because they are a well-studied taxonomic group, drivers of change for birds are better understood than for some other species groups, which enables interpretation of observed changes

Summary

 

Tractor In 2015 the farmland bird index was  less than half its 1970 value.  Short term,  between 2009 and 2014, the smoothed index decreased by 8%.

Tree The woodland bird index was 18% less than its 1970 value in 2015.  Short term, between 2009 and 2014, the smoothed index showed no significant change.

Water In 2015 the water and wetland bird index was 7% lower than in 1975 and short term, between 2009 and 2014 the smoothed index declined by 7%.

Water In 2015 the breeding seabird index was 22% below its 1986 value.  Short term, between 2009 and 2014 the index declined by 6%.

Snowflake In 2014-15, the wintering waterbirds index was 88% higher than in 1975-76.  Short term,  between 2008-09 and 2013-14, the smoothed index fell by 8%.

 

Figure C5ai.  Breeding farmland birds in the UK, 1970 to 2015.

Figure C5ai. Breeding farmland birds in the UK, 1970 to 2015.

Notes:

  1. The figure in brackets shows the number of species.
  2. The line graph shows the unsmoothed trend (dashed line) and smoothed trend (solid line) with its 95% confidence intervals.
  3. The bar chart shows the percentage of species within the indicator that have increased, decreased, or shown no change, based on set thresholds of annual change.

Source: British Trust for Ornithology, Defra, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

 

Figure C5bi.  Breeding woodland birds in the UK, 1970 to 2015

Figure C5bi. Breeding woodland birds in the UK, 1970 to 2015.

Notes:

  1. The figure in brackets shows the number of species.
  2. The line graph shows the unsmoothed trend (dashed line) and smoothed trend (solid line) with its 95% confidence intervals.
  3. The bar chart shows the percentage of species within the indicator that have increased, decreased, or shown no change, based on set thresholds of annual change.

Source: British Trust for Ornithology, Defra, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

 

Figure C5ci.  Breeding water and wetland birds in the UK, 1975 to 2015.

Figure C5ci. Breeding water and wetland birds in the UK, 1975 to 2015.

Notes:

  1. The figure in brackets shows the number of species.
  2. The line graph shows the unsmoothed trend (dashed line) and smoothed trend (solid line) and its 95% confidence intervals.
  3. The bar chart shows the percentage of species within the indicator that have increased, decreased, or shown no change, based on set thresholds of annual change.

Source:  British Trust for Ornithology, Defra, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Environment Agency.

 

Figure C5di.  Breeding seabirds in the UK, 1986 to 2015.

Figure C5di. Breeding seabirds in the UK, 1986 to 2015.

Notes:

  1. The figure in brackets shows the number of species.
  2. The line graph shows the unsmoothed trend (solid line) – no smoothed trend is available for seabirds, as individual species population trends are analysed using an imputation procedure that does not include smoothing.  As data are based on a mixture of full counts and sample sites, standard bootstrapping methods used for other indicators cannot be applied.
  3. The bar chart shows the percentage of species within the indicator that have increased, decreased, or shown no change, based on set thresholds of annual change.

Source:  British Trust for Ornithology, Defra, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Seabird Monitoring Programme (co-ordinated by Joint Nature Conservation Committee).

 

Figure C5ei.  Wintering waterbirds in the UK, 1975-76 to 2014-15.

Figure C5ei. Wintering waterbirds in the UK, 1975-76 to 2014-15.

Notes:

  1. The figure in brackets shows the number of species.
  2. Based on financial years.
  3. The line graph shows the unsmoothed trend (dashed line) and smoothed trend (solid line).
  4. Data from surveys of wintering waterbirds are based on full counts on wetland and coastal sites of markedly varying size.  This means that standard indicator bootstrapping methods cannot be applied.
  5. The bar chart shows the percentage of species within the indicator that have increased, decreased, or shown no change, based on set thresholds of annual change.

Source:  British Trust for Ornithology, Defra, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

 

Assessment of change in bird populations

 

Long term

Short term

Latest year

Farmland birds

indicator declining
1970–2014

indicator declining
2009–2014

Increased (2015)

Woodland birds

indicator declining
1970–2014

2010 indicator stable2009–2014

No change (2015)

 

Wetland birds   

indicator declining1975–2014

indicator declining
2009–2014

Increased (2015)

 

Wintering waterbirds

indicator improving
1975/76–2013/14

indicator declining
2008/09–2013/14

No change (2014-15)

Notes:

  1. Whilst latest year percentage changes in these indices are reported based on the most recent unsmoothed data point (2015), the formal long-term and short-term assessments of the statistical significance of these changes are made using the smoothed data to 2014.  This is because the most recent smoothed data point (2015) is likely to change in next year’s update when additional data are included for 2016.  
  2. Analysis of the underlying trends is undertaken by the data providers.  Smoothed data are available for farmland, woodland, wetland and wintering waterbirds, but not for seabirds.
  3. The traffic light assessment for the seabirds measure has been removed until a way of assessing variability is devised.  This follows recommendations in a quality assurance science panel report, dated January 2016.

 

Tractor The long-term decline of farmland birds in the UK has been driven mainly by the decline of those species that are restricted to or highly dependent on farmland habitats (the ‘specialists’, which account for 12 of the 19 species in the indicator).  Between 1970 and 2015: the index of farmland specialists declined by 67%; and the index of farmland generalists declined by 3%.  Of the 12 farmland specialist species, four have declined by 90% or more relative to 1970 levels (grey partridge, turtle dove, tree sparrow and corn bunting).  Two farmland specialists (stock dove and goldfinch) have more than doubled over the same period, illustrating how pressures and responses to pressures vary between species.  Generalist species have fared better than specialists but show diverse trend patterns; woodpigeon and jackdaw populations have more than doubled relative to 1970 levels, whereas the yellow wagtail has declined by 68% and the kestrel by 48%.

Tree The relatively flat trend for all woodland birds from the mid-1990s masks different underlying trends for: specialist species, those which are highly dependent on woodland habitats; and generalist species, which are found in a wide range of habitats, including woodland.  Between 1970 and 2015, the woodland specialists index declined by 38%while the woodland generalist index increased by 16%.

Populations of three woodland generalist species (bullfinch, dunnock and tawny owl) have declined by 30% or more since 1970; and song thrush declined by 53%.  In contrast, populations of wren, great tit and long-tailed tit have increased by more than 50% over the same period.

A number of woodland specialists (lesser spotted woodpecker, lesser redpoll, spotted flycatcher, willow tit and capercaille) have declined by over 80% relative to 1970 levels, with willow tit down by 93%.  In contrast, populations of blackcap, and nuthatch have more than doubled over the same period and the great spotted woodpecker has more than trebled.  This divergence in trends reflects differences in the pressures faced, as well as in the type of woodland for which they are specialised.  

Water The breeding water and wetland bird measure can be disaggregated to four sub-habitat indicators (birds of fast and flowing water, birds of slow and standing water, birds of reedbeds and birds of wet grasslands) to show more specific habitat trends, although each is derived from relatively few species trends.  Birds of slow flowing and standing water have shown the most positive trend, in 2015 the index was 55% higher than in 1975.  Birds of wet grassland decreased by 48%, and birds of fast-flowing water decreased by 6% compared to 1975.  Birds of reedbeds have fluctuated considerably over the same period, returning to a level in 2015 2% lower than in 1975.

Water The seabird measure currently stands at 22% below the 1986 baseline.  Despite fluctuations the indicator was largely flat from 1986 until the mid-2000s when seabird numbers started to decline, declining 6% between 2009 and 2014.  Three of the 13 seabird species in the index have increased since the beginning of the index in 1986, Razorbill and common guillemot by over 55% and arctic tern by 39%.  Two species have declined strongly, Arctic skua, by 80% and black-legged kittiwake by 62%.  Declines of black-legged kittiwakes, which are surface feeders, have been linked to increases in sea surface temperatures.

Snowflake The wintering waterbird measure increased steadily from the 1975-76 baseline to a peak in the late 1990s, and has declined since.  The indicator in 2014-15 was 88% above its 1975-76 baseline.  Amongst wildfowl, the European white-fronted goose has declined by 68% since 1975-76, and the indices for scaup and pochard have both halved.  The Svalbard light bellied brent goose, shows an almost 10 fold increase in the long term.  The British/Irish greylag goose and gadwall show 10 and 13 fold increases, respectively, since 1975-76.  Amongst waders, the indices for avocet have increased over 13-fold since being included in the indicator in 1989-90.  The black-tailed godwit shows a 7-fold increase in the long term.  In contrast, the indicators for ringed plover and dunlin showed the steepest declines, declining by 41% and 50% respectively since the winter of 1975-76.  Turnstone numbers have shown no change over the long term.

 

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Last updated: August 2017

Latest data available: 2015 (farmland birds, woodland birds, wetland birds, seabirds); 2014-15 (wintering waterbirds)