Rossendale Free Press

A worrying decline in the number of woodland birds

- SEAN WOOD

THE distributi­on and numbers of birds in the UK are changing dramatical­ly, with many species experienci­ng worrying declines according to a new report.

The State of the UK’s Birds 2020 (SUKB) - the one-stop shop for all the latest results from bird surveys and monitoring studies – this year highlights the continuing poor fortunes of the UK’s woodland birds.

The woodland bird indicator shows a long-term decline of 27% since the early 1970s, with declines of 7 per cent evident over just the last five years.

More worryingly some specialist woodland birds have declined dramatical­ly, including willows tits, which have shown the second biggest decline of any UK bird.

The breeding population­s of five other species (lesser spotted woodpecker, lesser redpoll, spotted flycatcher, capercaill­ie and marsh tit) are now less than a quarter of what they were 50 years ago.

Changes in the way our woodlands are managed are thought to be the main cause.

The UK’s endemic subspecies of willow tit is the fastest declining widespread resident species in the UK, its population having dropped by 94pc since 1970 and by 33pc between 2008 and 2018.

The RSPB, Natural England and others have conducted research into the causes of its decline and new woodland management practices are now being trialled in an attempt to halt the decline.

Due to its declining numbers, annual monitoring of this species is becoming increasing­ly difficult, something that prompted a targeted UK-wide survey in

2019/20 to estimate numbers.

The report also highlights new figures, estimating that there are 83 million pairs of native breeding birds in the UK.

Comparison with previously published figures indicates that there are now 19 million fewer pairs of native breeding birds in the UK compared to the late 1960s.

Because the numbers of some species have increased, wren being one example, the scale of the numbers actually lost is much bigger, at some 43 million pairs overall.

House sparrows have been hit the hardest and there are now 10.7 million fewer pairs than in 1966.

The wren population has grown by 6.5 million pairs and is the most numerous bird in the UK.

The report does contain better news for some species.

In Wales, house sparrows increased by 92pc from 1995 to 2018.

Across the whole of the UK, house sparrow is still the third most common breeding bird, but the millions of pairs that have disappeare­d since monitoring started in the late 60s puts these increases in context.

Climate change is predicted to impact UK bird population­s and, for example, is behind the increases in numbers of Cetti’s warblers. However, for several large waterbirds, including great white egrets, cattle egrets, little egrets, little bitterns and spoonbills, better protection of both the birds themselves and the wetland habitats they require also appear to be contributi­ng to the increase.

Population­s of some of the UK’s rarer breeding bird species have also seen increases, some due to concerted conservati­on action, such as cirl buntings, stone-curlews and corncrakes.

These recoveries are great examples of conservati­on success and a reason for optimism, neverthele­ss some of the species remain dependent on ongoing conservati­on support.

Fiona Burns, lead author of the State of the UK’s Birds 2020, said: “The UK’s birds are telling us that nature is in retreat.

“The continuing losses seen across many species are not sustainabl­e and more needs to be done to stop the declines and help population­s revive and recover.

“These findings are in line with our earlier State of Nature 2019 report which found that 41pc of all UK species are declining.

“More action is needed if we are to tackle the nature crisis.”

David Noble, Head & Principal Ecologist, BTO said: “Volunteers play an essential role in bird monitoring in the UK, by donating their time, energy and expertise.

“The data they collect are vital for conservati­on, tracking changes and policy developmen­t.

“This year, many monitoring schemes have been adversely affected by the global Covid-19 pandemic and we want to say a special thank you to all of those involved for their continued support through this difficult time.”

 ?? MEN UGC ?? ●● A willow tit
MEN UGC ●● A willow tit
 ?? Sean.wood @talk21.com ??
Sean.wood @talk21.com

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