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 2016 the farmland bird index was less than half its 1970 value. Short term, between 2010 and 2015, the smoothed index decreased by 9%..

Tree The woodland bird index was 23% less than its 1970 value in 2016. Short term, between 2010 and 2015, the smoothed index showed no significant change.

Water In 2016 the water and wetland bird index was 8% lower than in 1975. Short term, between 2010 and 2015 the smoothed index showed no significant change.

WaterIn 2015 the breeding seabird index was 22% below its 1986 value.  Short term, between 2009 and 2014 the index declined by 6% see note under figure C5di.

Snowflake In 2015/16, the wintering waterbirds index was 87% higher

than in 1975/76.  Short term, between 2009/10 and 2014/15, the smoothed index fell by 8%.

 

Figure C5ai.  Breeding farmland birds in the UK, 1970 to 2016.

Figure C5ai. Breeding farmland birds in the UK, 1970 to 2016.

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 2016.UKBI2018 - C5bi

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 2016.

UKBI2018 - C5ci

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, Environment Agency Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Royal Society for the Protection of Bird, Environment Agency.

 

Figure C5di.  Breeding seabirds in the UK, 1986 to 2015 not updated, see note below figure C5di

UKBI2018 - C5di

Notes:

  1. In 2016, the Seabird Monitoring Programme Steering Group made the decision to put the analysis and publication of the annual SMP report on hold for two years. The reason for this was to enable staff time to be dedicated to the breeding seabird census, Seabirds Count. Although data is still being collected, and in higher volumes for the census, the absence of analysed data for 2016 means this indicator has not been updated.
  2. The figure in brackets shows the number of species.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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 2015/16.

UKBI2018 - C5ei

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
1970–2015

indicator declining
2010–2015

Decreased  (2016)

Woodland birds

indicator declining
1970–2015

2010 indicator stable2010–2015

Decreased  (2016)

 

Wetland birds   

2010 indicator stable1975–2015

2010 indicator stable2010–2015

No change (2016)

 

Wintering waterbirds

indicator improving
1975/76–2014/15

indicator declining
2009/10–2014/15

No change (2015/16)

Notes:

  1. Whilst latest year percentage changes in these indices are reported based on the most recent unsmoothed data point (2016), the formal long-term and short-term assessments of the statistical significance of these changes are made using the smoothed data to 2015.  This is because the most recent smoothed data point (2016) is likely to change in next year’s update when additional data are included for 2017.  
  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 2016: the index of farmland specialists declined by 70%; and the index of farmland generalists declined by 12%.  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) largely due to changes in farmland practices that started in the 1970s.  Two farmland specialists (stock dove and goldfinch) have more than doubled over the same period, illustrating how pressures and responses vary between species.  Generalist species have fared better than specialists although the rates of decline have been closer in the last decade.  Amongst generalist species: woodpigeon and jackdaw populations have more than doubled relative to 1970 levels, whereas the yellow wagtail has declined by over 67%; kestrel by 50% and greenfinch by 46%.  As for other farmland species, this is largely due to changes in the suitability of farmland for breeding and wintering as well as pressures faced by those that undertake long migrations, but the recent decline in greenfinch is attributable to the disease trichomonosis

Tree 

The woodland bird index contains data for 37 species. 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 particular woodland habitats; and generalist species, which are found in a wide range of habitats, including woodland. Between 1970 and 2016, the woodland specialists index declined by 43%while the woodland generalist index increased by 12%.

 

Indices for four generalist woodland species (bullfinch, song thrush, dunnock and tawny owl) have declined more than 25% or more since 1970; and song thrush by 50%. In contrast, indices for wren, great tit and long-tailed tit increased by more than 50% over the same period.

 

Five woodland specialists (lesser spotted woodpecker, lesser redpoll, spotted flycatcher, capercaille and willow tit) have declined by over 80% relative to 1970 levels, with the latter down by 93%.  In contrast, 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, specific responses to climate change, 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 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, such as mallard and coot, have shown the most positive trend, in 2016 the index was 44% higher than in 1975. The index of birds of wet grassland, including a number of wading species, decreased by 51%, and for birds of fast flowing water (such as dipper) decreased by 13% compared to 1975. 

 

SnowflakeThe wintering waterbird measure increased steadily from the 1975/76 baseline to a peak in the late 1990s, and has declined since.  The indicator in 2015/16 was 87% above its 1975/76 baseline.  The separate wader and wildfowl indices show broadly similar patterns of increase than decrease, although the change in the wildfowl indicator has been greater.  Amongst wildfowl, the Bewick’s swan has declined by 85% since the 1975/76 baseline and continues to decline strongly in the short term. The indices for the European white-fronted goose, scaup and pochard have all halved.  The Svalbard light-bellied brent goose, shows an almost 6-fold increase in the long term but shows a strong decline (39%) in the short term.  The British/Irish greylag goose and gadwall both show increases, of 36-fold and 12-fold, respectively, since 1975/76, and while the index for gadwall shows no change in the short term, British/Irish greylag goose shows a 17% increase in the short term.   Amongst waders, the indices for avocet and black-tailed godwit have increased over 7-fold (avocet was only included in the indicator since 1989/90).  The short-term trend for the avocet is a weak 10% increase and for black-tailed godwit, a strong 25% increase.  In contrast, the indices for ringed plover and dunlin showed the steepest declines, declining by 40% and 50% respectively since the winter of 1975/76.  Turnstone numbers have shown no change over the long term and declined strongly, by 15%, since 2009/10.

 

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Last updated: July 2018

Latest data available:

2016 (farmland birds, woodland birds, wetland birds);

2015 (seabirds);

2015/16 (wintering waterbirds)