Climate change has affected a third of English birds


New research, published in the journal Bird Study, has shown that a third of 68 breeding species in England have been affected by climate change, leading to notable increases in some and declines in a few.

Looking at 50 years of data collected in England by citizen scientists as part of a long-term monitoring of bird populations by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), scientists from BTO and Natural England have shown that there are real effects of climate change on bird populations in England, particularly for a range of resident species during both the summer and winter.

Little Owl was one of the species found to have declined by some 10 per cent due to climate trends (Derek Lees).

Of the 68 species looked at, 24 showed evidence that changes in their populations were linked to temperature or rainfall. For 13 species (including Corn Bunting, Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit), their populations appeared to be at least 10 per cent larger as a result of climatic trends, whilst at least three species saw their numbers fall by at least 10 per cent as a result of climate change – Common Cuckoo, Little Owl and Reed Warbler.

James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science at the BTO and the paper's lead author, said: "Given the changeable British weather, it can be difficult for us to see the long-term impacts of climate change, but by monitoring bird populations we can track impacts upon the natural environment.

"Thanks to the efforts of our volunteer bird surveyors who have been counting birds in England for over 50 years, we can show that climate change is already affecting about a third of breeding bird populations monitored.

"While some of these impacts have resulted in population increases, as harsh winters which naturally limit the populations of some resident species have become less common through time, there are also species which appear to have declined too."



Pierce-Higgins, J W et al. 2019. One-third of English breeding bird species show evidence of population responses to climatic variables over 50 yearsBird Study, volume 66, issue 1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00063657.2019.1630360