The latest assessment of the status of all the UK’s 244 birds – Birds of Conservation Concern 4 – shows that 67 species are now of ‘highest conservation concern’ and have been placed on the assessment’s Red List. The revised Red List now includes well-known waterbirds such as Pochard, Curlew and Long-tailed Duck joining other familiar species such as Lapwing and Common Scoter.
Alarmingly, the Red List now accounts for more than one quarter (27%) of the UK’s birds. This is far higher than the last assessment in 2009, when 52 species (21%) were on the Red List. Most of the 67 species were placed on the Red List because of severe decline, having halved in numbers or range in the UK in recent decades. Others remain much below historical levels, or are considered under threat of global extinction.
Birds of Conservation Concern is a report compiled by a coalition of the UK’s leading bird conservation organisations that reviews the status of all regularly occurring birds in the UK, Channel Isles and Isle of Man. Each species was assessed against a set of objective criteria and placed on the Green, Amber or Red List – indicating an increasing level of conservation concern.
Amongst the species new to the Red List are five upland species, most notably the Curlew. Now one of the UK’s highest conservation priorities, Curlew have undergone declines internationally and in globally important UK population. It is joined by Dotterel, Whinchat, Grey Wagtail and Merlin. Their addition to the Red List highlights that many of the UK’s upland species are in increasing trouble, with the total number of upland birds red listed now standing at 12.
Three species of seabird also join the Red List for the first time. The unmistakable Puffin has undergone a worldwide population decline that means it is now considered at risk of global extinction. Further declines of the UK’s internationally important seabird population are highlighted by the addition of Shag and Kittiwake. Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter, two Arctic-breeding ducks that overwinter at sea, have also joined the Red List due to declines that put them at risk of global extinction.
However, the 2015 assessment does contain some good news. Three species (Bittern, Nightjar and Dunlin) have been removed from the Red List and added to Amber, largely because of a recovery in their numbers or range.
The Bittern is bouncing back to full recovery. In 1997, Bitterns were heading towards a second extinction with only 11 booming males in England, but efforts to improve its preferred habitat – wet reedbed – meant it was saved. This year, 150 booming males were counted in England and Wales, more than at any time since the early 19th Century.
In addition to these successes, an additional 22 species have been upgraded from the Amber to the Green list; meaning they are now of the lowest conservation concern. Most notably these species include Red Kite, which was once restricted to Wales but after a long-term reintroduction programme can now be found in most parts of the UK, and Woodlark, which has benefited from improved land management, especially of healthland. Both birds were once on the Red List and so demonstrate that if resources for conservation action are available recovery is possible.
Birds of Conservation Concern 4 is compiled by a partnership of organisations, including the British Trust for Ornithology, Countryside Council for Wales, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.
The full Birds of Conservation Concern 4 paper detailing the review and the analyses underpinning it is published in the December issue of the journal British Birds.