Ten year health check for UK’s most important bird sites

20 October 2016


JNCC today submitted a review of the status of the UK’s most important sites for birds to UK Ministers.  The UK network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) includes 270 sites of international importance that are central to the conservation of UK birds. This third review of the SPA network brings together data collected during the 2000s and includes extensive counts from volunteer schemes.  

In winter, the network is used by 2,490,000 ducks, geese, swans and waders – nearly 40% of all the UK’s non-breeding waterbirds (and two thirds of all geese and swans). The sites include the massive colonies of breeding seabirds on St. Kilda and elsewhere in Scotland; estuaries critical to non-breeding waterbirds such as Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland and the Wash in East Anglia; chalk grasslands such as Salisbury Plain in England; and coastal cliffs and caves such as on Holy Island in Wales that support Choughs.

Some of the sites hold very significant proportions of species’ global populations: Rum and Skomer, off the western coasts of Scotland and Wales respectively, hold 83% of all the world’s breeding Manx Shearwater.

Comparison with numbers in the 1990s showed that some species have undergone substantial changes in their distributions, leading both to increases and decreases within the site network.  One example, the Icelandic-breeding Greylag Goose – now winters mostly in Orkney and has vacated more southerly wintering sites in central and southern Scotland.  However, birds such as Spoonbill and Little Egrets, originally from further south in Europe, are now colonising and spreading north within Great Britain. 

The review acknowledges the massive voluntary efforts of many tens of thousands of volunteers who gave and continue to give their time to participate in systematic surveys and monitoring of UK birds - critical information which helps conserve and manage these important sites.

The Review was undertaken by the SPA and Ramsar Scientific Working Group.