A local view on the latest wild bird data

The UK Bird Indicators report published this week explores the dramatic change in bird populations since 1970, but what do these findings mean for us locally?

The UK Bird indicators  document published this week by Defra provides further evidence that we need concerted and rapid action to tackle the ecological crisis we are facing.

The report explores the ‘long term’ change in bird populations since 1970, but it is worth noting that 50 years is an incredibly short period in ecological terms, especially for such dramatic changes to have occurred.

Skylark on frosted ground

© Amy Lewis

For Hampshire the Isle of Wight, the most significant findings are:

  • Farmland birds (down 56% nationally since 1970 and 6% since 2012) Arable is the majority land-use in our two counties and since 1970 we have lost tree sparrow as a breeding species, almost lost corn bunting and turtle dove, and seen huge declines in grey partridge, skylark and lapwing. The huge shift towards agricultural intensification, including loss of hedgerows, use of winter wheat, and the widespread use of pesticides coincides with the most dramatic losses.
  • Woodland birds (down 27% since 1970 and 8% since 2012). Woodland birds we have seen decline locally in this time are lesser-spotted woodpecker and wood warbler, which are now hanging on in the New Forest. Nightingale, which is a bird of scrubby woodland, has plummeted but the Island retains an important population. A huge increase in deer during this time, which browse on the ground-level cover, and the end of traditional woodland management like coppicing are likely the main reasons for these declines.
  • Nationally there are no significant changes in water & wetland birds but locally this is where we have seen big losses in the last 20 or so years: redshank, snipe and curlew have disappeared as a breeding species from many of our river valleys and parts of the New Forest. Drying-catchments due to demand for water and climate change, as well as a shift away from extensive mixed farming have probably contributed most to these declines, but human disturbance and impacts of predators cannot be discounted.
  • Wintering waterbirds actually saw large increases between the 1970s and 1990s but that has stabilised now and has probably been driven by climate change and our mild winters attracting continental birds. Birds like dark-bellied brent geese are still in the Solent in good numbers but they are vulnerable to the impacts of development including sea defences, rising sea levels and being disturbed by people.
Two Dark-bellied Brent geese captured mid-flight

© IanCameron-Reid 

This report mirrors trends seen for other species, as reported in the recent State of Nature 2019 report. All the evidence stacks up to show us how close to the edge we’ve come.  Our Wilder 2030 strategy sets out plans to secure nature’s recovery.  We need the space for wildlife trebled over the next decade - creating wilder landscapes and seas that allow these important birds and other wildlife to return and thrive.