News Round-Up

Mixed bag for Scottish seedeaters

The latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report, covering population trends for the UK’s bird species, shows that sparrows are doing better in Scotland than the rest of the UK. This knowledge is generated by an army of volunteers, walking urban streets through to mountain tops to monitor Scottish birds. 

In 2019, volunteers in Scotland surveyed an impressive 605 1-km survey sites! But what do their efforts tell us from within the list of 69 monitored bird species?

The house and tree sparrow populations have shown increases of 51% and 426% respectively since the survey began in 1994. Both are showing slight increases south of the border too but nothing to compare with Scotland.

Of course, these relatively recent increases are framed against a backdrop of huge declines pre-BBS, during the 1980s, with widespread agricultural change taking its toll at this time. It is thanks to the long run of data collected by volunteers that scientists are able to see these changes and look at ways to help these birds in the future.

The chaffinch is a familiar bird in Scotland, being a frequent visitor to garden feeding stations, but the long-term data is showing fluctuations in its population that might be cause for concern. The 2019 Breeding Bird Survey results show that during the last 10 years the chaffinch population has fallen by 18% in Scotland against a backdrop of long-term increase. The cause of this recent decline is largely unknown and more research is needed to understand what might be driving it.

In Scotland, it is possible to monitor the population changes for these bird species and many others published in this latest report thanks to the dedication of the BBS volunteers who go out every spring to survey Scotland’s birdlife.

Ben Darvill, Development and Engagement Manager, BTO Scotland, said
“Among the headline-grabbing declines, it’s heartening to see that there are some good news stories, too. Goldfinches, for example – a favourite for many at bird feeding stations – have increased by 224% in Scotland. Things are seldom static, however, and the decline experienced by chaffinch illustrates how quickly things can change. Huge thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who contribute their time, skills and effort to collect the valuable data which underpins the BBS trends.”

Jeremy Wilson, RSPB’s Head of Research, Scotland, said “As always, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many volunteers whose time, skill and knowledge are the foundations of this crucial long-term data set.  The 2019 report shows stark contrasts in fortunes of birds across Scotland’s farmed landscapes, from the severe declines of waders such as lapwing and curlew, to heartening recovery of our two sparrow species, goldfinches and yellowhammers. In other UK countries, Government has funded comprehensive analyses to understand how their agri-environment schemes and other measures may be supporting recovery of birds of conservation concern and where they may be under-performing; we hope such analyses will also take place in Scotland in due course.”

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, and the report is published by BTO annually on behalf of the partnership.

For more information on the ups and downs of our birds, the full report can be accessed here.

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