Find out about the UK’s most endangered birds and what we can do to help.
Every moment I share with the birds that are our neighbours leaves me feeling humble.
Yesterday evening, I heard the insistent call of some great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) chicks, deep within their nesting hole. I scrambled down a steep slope to confirm my suspicions, taking care not to approach too close. The nest hole had recently been quarried out of the trunk of a venerable silver birch. It was one of those profound unscripted moments in which I felt grateful for my senses.
There are some bird sights and sounds that are always make my heart rejoice. The haunting call of the curlew (Numenius arquata), piping out across the moors. The quizzical stare of the puffin (Fratercula arctica). Sharing such magical moments with clients and the immense privilege of being there is something we at Wilderness Scotland take great pride in.
It is sad to reflect on the number of our feathered friends who are struggling.
The UK’s most endangered Birds
The Birds of Conservation Concern Red List is a report showing which birds are globally threatened and are suffering severe (over 50%) population decline in the UK over the last 25 years.
The full list of the UK’s birds under threat can be found here. There are now 67 bird species within this category in the UK. Nineteen species were red-listed for the first time due to worsening population status.
There have been declines in the breeding population of some of my favourite upland birds, including the curlew, the merlin and the grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). In total, five upland birds (Curlew, Dotterel, Grey Wagtail, Whinchat and Merlin) were added. Three woodland birds (Woodcock, Nightingale and Pied Flycatcher) were added to the list.
The Puffin and Merlin, meanwhile, find themselves back on the list because of the species’ vulnerable status globally.
This is all deeply worrying.
Why are more birds at risk?
The decline of the grey wagtail is estimated to be of the order of 32% since the British Breeding Bird Survey started. Whilst the causes of the decline remain unclear, it is thought to be due, in part to a series of poor breeding seasons in 2012 and 2013.
In the case of the curlew, the decline of this species was estimated to be of the order of 45% between 1995 and 2011! Studies suggest this decline was partly due to nest predation and low breeding productivity. Their habitat has been impacted by the changes to our uplands due to increased grazing and farming. Curlew nesting success tended to be higher on sites managed by gamekeepers, due to increased predator control. Foxes rather than crows were thought to have the most impact. Nesting success tended to be lower on sites where conifer plantations surround the open moorland where the curlew bred. These areas carry higher fox populations.
Understanding these population trends and, in particular, the worrying declines, necessitates painstaking research. It is important that we support this valuable work.
Where species such as the skylark and grey partridge are concerned, the cause of their decline is thought to be attributable to the intensification of agriculture. The widespread use of pesticides continues to have an impact. Responsible farmers manage their land in order to provide skylark plots that enable these birds to rear their young.
The good news
It is worth pointing out that, whilst we have good reason to be concerned about the decline in many of our birds, there are some great success stories to celebrate too. The recovery of the red kite (Milvus milvus) is one of the great success stories of the last few decades. And there are great places to view them across Scotland, including the Black Isle and Perthshire. Hopefully with greater emphasis on conservation, the UK’s most endangered birds list can begin to reduce.