Latest UK honey buzzard survey results published


A UK-wide census of breeding European Honey Buzzards, carried out in summers 2020 and 2021, has found that the national population is significantly higher than it was two decades ago.

Survey work was conducted across two summers due to the varying restrictions put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The results, recently published in British Birds, show that a total of 109 territories were found in 2020, of which breeding was confirmed at 48, while 102 territories were identified in 2021, including confirmed breeding at 39.

The findings show that Scotland has become an increasingly significant bastion for the UK's European Honey Buzzard population, with a large increase in the number of territories found there when compared to a similar national survey in 2000.

The UK breeding population of European Honey Buzzard appears to be slowly increasing (Per Schans Christensen).

However, the study concluded that the Welsh population has halved over the same period. While honey buzzard populations have traditionally fluctuated in the UK, the decline observed in Wales contrasted to gradual increases noted in many areas of England and Scotland. The authors suggest that wetter summers over the past two or three decades may have reduced the ability of adult honey buzzards to forage successfully in Wales, or that the recovering Northern Goshawk population – a species known to predate European Honey Buzzard – could also be having an impact.

In England, the New Forest remains a stronghold for the species, but there is evidence of a slowly increasing population in other southern counties as further new territories were found. Elsewhere the species continues to be thinly distributed and rare, while there was evidence of decline in more westerly populations. For example, former breeding locations in Devon, Shropshire and Cumbria were absent of birds.

It is speculated that the national population may in fact be as high as 150 pairs, with this elusive species being notoriously difficult to detect, even with dedicated coverage at likely sites.

The authors conclude by encouraging finders of European Honey Buzzards to submit sightings to recorders, saying that "such information is important for conservation reasons as it can inform windfarm applications, prevent the unintended loss of nests through forestry operations, and assist RSPB Investigations with potential egg-collecting cases".