Birds of Conservation Concern (BOCC) Update – An Ever Growing Red List

Posted by Annie Hatt BSc (Hons) on 23/02/2016

Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List of Birds

Last reviewed in 2009, the fourth update of the status has been completed, showing a large movement of species, unfortunately mostly for the worst. 244 species across the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man, were assessed using standard criteria, and assigned a ‘Green’, ‘Amber’ or Red status. Results are obtained using the most up to date evidence available, mostly from monitoring systems; BTO, JNCC, RSPB Breeding Bird Survey, general bird surveys and sea bird monitoring.  Evidence of historical decline, population trends, range, rarity, localised distribution and international importance are all used within the assessment process.

Some Big Movers

There is a great deal of movement within the listings some moving positively down the list to Green status; however, unfortunately more are moving up to the Red status. 19 species were ‘Red Listed’ for the first time, mostly due to declines in their population status. The past six years have seen an increase in declining breeding bird populations including; Curlew, Nightingale and Mistle Thrush. Puffins were Red Listed due to their global assessment as Vulnerable and the Merlin returned to the Red List after population declines. Overall the Red List has increased to 67 species, which makes more than 25% of all species assessed part of this group. In total 20 species moved onto the Red List and only 3 left and became Amber Listed. This means there are more species on the Red List than ever before. Possibly the saddest case is the Wryneck, which has become the first once widespread breeding species to be lost from the UK in nearly 2000 years! Adding to the bad news, farmland bird species are still of major concern with populations of species such as the turtle dove, decreasing at an alarming rate. That said, woodland birds still hold the not so glamorous title as the habitat to have the most bird species Red Listed.

Possible reason behind these catastrophic result may be due to climate change creating changes within habitats and altering bird behaviour. Changes in the marine food chains have been noted and these are thought to be having detrimental effects on sea bird populations due to low prey abundance. Suitable breeding habitat is thought to be moving north, due to the change in air temperature. This means habitats are no longer apparent within the UK, thus reducing the breeding bird populations. Weather conditions and air temperature are also thought to be effecting migrant flyways, resulting in higher mortality during migration.   

A Deeper Insight

A closer look into the movement of species reveals two species, White-fronted Goose and Long-tailed Duck, move from the Green list straight to the Red List. Both for different reasons, however, a large jump to make. The White-fronted Goose became Red Listed due to a decline within the non-breeding population and the Long-tailed Duck due to its Globally Threatened classification. Three species hit the Red List for the first time; Red-necked Grebe, Ringed Plover and the Pochard. All of which showed marked decline in their wintering populations. Woodcocks have also experienced severe declines in breeding ranges.

Broken down into habitats gives an understanding of possible reasons for declines and, perhaps where conservation should be focussed in the coming years:

Farmland Birds

No new farmland birds have been added to the Red List, however, our forever vulnerable farmland birds still hold the highest percentage on the Red List with 12 out of 26 species present.

Lowland Birds

Lowland birds take up the smallest percentage with only four out of 31 species present.

Upland Species

Sadly five species of upland species were added to the Red List including; Curlew, Dotterel, Grey Wagtail, Whinchat and Merlin. Bringing their total to 12 species on the List.

Woodland Species

Three species of woodland birds were added including; Woodcock, Nightingale and Pied flycatcher, bringing the total number of woodland species of the Red List to 16.

Sea Birds

Sea birds have experienced the biggest change, with the number of species on the Red List almost doubling. Kitiwake, Shag, Puffin and four of the UKs Sea Ducks all found themselves with a firm place.

Urban Species

It seems even urban bird species are not safe with two species; House Sparrow and Black Restart finding themselves on the Red List also.

To add to the list; eight Globally Threatened species, 16 species of long distance migrants, three out of four of the UKs game birds and five out of six of the UKs larger thrushes all became part of the Red List statistic.







It’s Not All Bad News!

Just when you were feeling completely deflated, a happier note revealed some bird species are moving in a positive direction as well! Marked improvements were noted in several species population statuses, largely due to sustainable forest management and targeted conservation action. The Bittern and Nightjar have both experienced targeted conservation and funding, resulting in habitat creation as well as habitat management schemes, both governed by action plans. This system has resulted in these two species moving from the Red List to Amber.

The good news continues with 22 species moving onto the Green List. Although nine of these were due to changes in the assessment guidelines, 13 were due to improving population statuses. One of these, due to vast conservation efforts, is the Red Kite, previously Amber Listed. This is great news and indicates a real success for bird conservation. So although the Red List is growing, all is not lost. With the Red Kite as evidence, when conservation efforts are centred in the right places, real triumphs can be achieved. Who knows, following this example, perhaps the next BOCC Update will show our bird populations moving in a better direction! 

Assessment criteria is set out below (taken from the RSPB web site):

Red List Criteria

-          Globally threatened

-          Historical population decline in UK during 1800–1995

-          Severe (at least 50%) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years, or longer-term period (the entire period used for assessments since the first BoCC review, starting in 1969).

-          Severe (at least 50%) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years, or the longer-term period

Amber List Criteria

-          Species with unfavourable conservation status in Europe (SPEC = Species of European Conservation Concern)

-          Historical population decline during 1800–1995, but recovering; population size has more than doubled over last 25 years

-          Moderate (25-49%) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years, or the longer-term period

-          Moderate (25-49%) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years, or the longer-term period

-          Moderate (25-49%) decline in UK non-breeding population over last 25 years, or the longer-term period

-          Rare breeder; 1–300 breeding pairs in UK

-          Rare non-breeders; less than 900 individuals

-          Localised; at least 50% of UK breeding or non-breeding population in 10 or fewer sites, but not applied to rare breeders or non-breeders

-          Internationally important; at least 20% of European breeding or non-breeding population in UK (NW European and East Atlantic Flyway populations used for non-breeding wildfowl and waders respectively)

Green List

-          Species that occur regularly in the UK but do not qualify under any or the above criteria