23/05/2008
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Statistics reveal north-south divide for English birds

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The publication by Defra of bird trends across regions of England shows that the UK government will face difficulty in meeting its target of halting wildlife declines by 2010, says the RSPB. Dr David Gibbons, the RSPB's chief scientist, said: "The results show that in some parts of the UK bird populations are decreasing rapidly, setting the government an almost impossible challenge to honour its commitment to halt wildlife decline within two years."

In 2001, the European Union heads of state agreed that wildlife declines should be halted by 2010. However, population trends between 1994 and 2006 for woodland birds, farmland birds and native birds for each Government office region show that bird populations are decreasing rapidly across parts of the UK. The figures show that across England the populations of farmland birds and woodland birds fell by 7%, but the corresponding figures for some regions exceeded these figures considerably. The 'all native species' index for England rose by 6%.

Grey Partridge
Grey Partridge, Shobdon, Herefordshire (Photo: Chris Grady)

The greatest declines of both farmland and woodland birds have occurred in southeast England, where populations of both groups of birds have plummeted by a fifth since 1994. Declines of 10% were recorded for both groups of birds in southwest England. But, in the three regions of northern England, the populations of both groups of birds showed either modest or significant increases.

Dr David Gibbons added: "The steep declines of some of our most familiar farmland and woodland birds is extremely depressing. The most rapidly declining species in southeast England include familiar countryside birds like the Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove and Corn Bunting, whose populations all crashed in the region by more than half. However, there is more welcome news from northern England, where some formerly rapidly declining birds, like the Tree Sparrow, have approximately doubled in number. Today's results paint a mixed picture for birds across England, but they do show that some species are still declining rapidly with no hint of recovery. Even some species that are recovering, like the Tree Sparrow, will have a long way to go before their populations reach the levels of the 1970s."

For each Government office region, Defra has produced three indices: farmland birds; woodland birds; and an 'all native species' birds indicator. The key findings from today's report per region include:

Northeast England 1994-2006:

  • The all native species bird index for the Northeast government office region increased by 14%. 29 species (out of 87 comprising the regional all-species native bird index) declined, while 47 species increased.
  • The farmland bird index for the Northeast government office region increased by 7%, with Goldfinch and Tree Sparrow populations more than doubling in the region. Five species (out of 18 comprising the regional farmland bird index) declined, while 10 species increased.
  • The woodland birds index for the Northeast government office region increased by 9%, with Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch populations more than doubling in the region. 11 species (out of 32 comprising the regional woodland bird index) declined, while 16 species increased.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackpool Mill, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Richard Crossen)

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Northwest England 1994-2006:

  • The all native species bird index for the Northwest government office region increased by 23%. 21 species (out of 85 comprising the regional all-species native bird index) decreased, while 47 species increased. Coot, Goldcrest, Blackcap, Buzzard, Chiffchaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker have all increased by more than 100%. Bullfinch fell by 59%.
  • The farmland bird index for the Northwest government office region increased by 8%, with Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Stock Dove populations more than doubling in the region. This was the highest recorded increase of any regional farmland bird index.
  • Five species (out of 18 comprising the regional farmland bird index) declined, while eight species increased. The woodland bird index for the Northwest government office region increased by 32%, with Sparrowhawks and Green Woodpeckers recording large increases in the region. This increase was the highest recorded for any woodland bird index. Six species (out of 29 comprising the regional woodland bird index) declined, while 19 species increased.

Yorkshire and the Humber 1994-2006:

  • The all native species bird index for the Yorkshire and the Humber government office region increased by 17%. 33 species (out of 84 comprising the regional all-species native bird index) decreased, while 45 species increased. Buzzard and House Martin rose threefold, while Raven, Coot and Oystercatcher also increased by more than 150%.
  • The farmland bird index for the Yorkshire and the Humber government office region increased by 3%. Eight species (out of 19 comprising the regional farmland bird index) declined, while nine species increased. The populations of Rook and Grey Partridge declined by 50%, while Stock Dove, Jackdaw and Greenfinch increased by more than 80%.
  • The woodland bird index for the Yorkshire and the Humber government office region increased by 19%. 10 species (out of 30 comprising the regional woodland bird index) declined, while 18 species increased. Blackcap, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch and Redstart all increased by more than 100%, while the Willow Tit declined by 70%.

East Midlands 1994-2006:

  • The all native species bird index for the East Midlands government office region increased by 9%. 26 species (out of 82 comprising the regional all-species native bird index) decreased, while 39 species increased. Buzzard witnessed a two-fold increase, while Kingfishers increased nine-fold.
  • The farmland bird index for the East Midlands government office region decreased by 1%. Seven species (out of 19 comprising the regional farmland bird index) declined, while eight species increased. Greenfinch and Lapwing have risen by 50% or more, while Yellow Wagtail and Linnet decreased by more than 50%.
  • The woodland bird index for the East Midlands government office region increased by 7%. 10 species (out of 30 comprising the regional woodland bird index) declined, while 16 species increased. Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit and Chiffchaff increased by more than 90%, while Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Tit decreased by more than 70%.

Yellow Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail, Frodsham Marsh, Cheshire (Photo: Steve Round)

West Midlands 1994-2006:

  • The all native species bird index for the West Midlands government office region decreased by 3%. 33 species (out of 81 comprising the regional all-species native bird index) decreased, while 35 species increased. Kingfishers have increased three-fold, while Buzzard, Nuthatch, Coot and Great Spotted Woodpecker have increased by more than 100%.
  • The farmland bird index for the West Midlands government office region declined by 17%. 12 species (out of 19 comprising the regional farmland bird index) declined, while six species increased. Greenfinch increased by more than 50%, while Corn Bunting, Yellow Wagtail and Turtle Dove declined by more than 50%
  • The woodland bird index for the West Midlands government office region declined by 2%. 10 species (out of 32 comprising the regional woodland bird index) declined, while 16 species increased. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Goldcrest increased by more than 100%, while Tawny Owl, Wood Warbler and Willow Tit declined by 70%.

East of England 1994-2006:

  • The all native species bird index for the East of England Government office region increased by 7%. 28 species (out of 77 comprising the regional all-species native bird index) decreased, while 37 species increased. The Buzzard population has increased tenfold.
  • The farmland bird index for the East of England Government office region declined by 7%. 12 species (out of 19 comprising the regional farmland bird index) declined, while seven species increased. Turtle Dove declined by 65%, while Jackdaw and Rook have increased by 70%.
  • The woodland bird index for the East of England Government office region increased by 3%. 10 species (out of 27 comprising the regional woodland bird index) declined, while 13 species increased. Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker have increased by more than 100%, while Spotted Flycatcher has decreased by 70%.

Common Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat, Attenborough NR, Nottinghamshire (Photo: John Dickenson)

Southeast England 1994-2006:

  • The all native species bird index for the Southeast England Government office region decreased by 9%. 37 species (out of 80 comprising the regional all-species native bird index) decreased, while 28 species increased. The Buzzard has shown a seven-fold increase in its population.
  • The farmland bird index for the Southeast England Government office region declined by 21%. This was the worst recorded decline of any regional farmland bird index. 12 species (out of 19 comprising the regional farmland bird index) decreased, while four species increased. Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove and Corn Bunting decreased by more than 50%, while Common Whitethroat increased by more than 70%.
  • The woodland bird index for the Southeast England Government office region declined by 19%. This was the worst recorded decline of any regional woodland bird index. 16 species (out of 29 comprising the regional woodland bird index) declined, while eight species increased. Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Tit decreased by more than 50%, while Great Spotted Woodpecker increased by more than 100%.

Southwest England 1994-2006:

  • The all native species bird index for the Southwest England Government office region remained stable overall. 24 species (out of 79 comprising the regional all-species native bird index) decreased, while 36 species increased. Raven, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coot, Wheatear, and Shelduck have increased by more than 100%, while Cuckoo has decreased by more than 70%.
  • The farmland bird index for the Southwest England Government office region declined by 10%. Seven species (out of 16 comprising the regional farmland bird index) decreased, while seven species increased. Lapwing, Starling and Grey Partridge decreased by more than 50%, while Greenfinch has increased by more than 50%.
  • The woodland bird index for the Southwest Government office region declined by 10%. 11 species (out of 31 comprising the regional woodland bird index) decreased, while 11 species increased. Willow Tit and Wood Warbler decreased by more than 70%.

London region 1994-2006:

  • The all native species index for London increased by 6%.
  • The farmland bird index for London increased by 8%.
  • The woodland bird index for London increased by 9%.
Written by: RSPB