The message is clear: declines in species not on the IUCN Red List offer just as powerful a warning. ‘When I was growing up, the focus was on charismatic island species – large-boned, flightless birds, such as the kakapo in New Zealand,’ says Allinson, who is the lead author of BirdLife’s definitive 2018 State of the World’s Birds report. ‘The dodo is the poster child, if you will, of those species. But species that were once commonplace are now in freefall.’ Allinson points to the yellow-breasted bunting, which is found from Finland to Japan but has tumbled its way down through the Red List categories to the point that it’s now considered to be critically endangered. ‘Red Listed birds with a high chance of extinction carry a lot of symbolism,’ says David Noble of the British Trust for Ornithology. ‘But declines are happening in quite common birds – skylarks are still quite common but they are declining. Even if the bird still has high numbers, when they begin to decline rapidly it can take a long time to turn things around. ‘We are good at tackling flagship species – they are the ones that we get good funding for, everyone likes a comeback story,’ he continues. ‘You can engage the psyche of huge masses of people through these. But the wider decline of so many species is warning us that this is not enough.’ . 19 October 2020
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