Europe and Central Asia
3 Dec 2015

More than a quarter of UK birds now of 'highest conservation concern'

67 of the UK's 244 bird species, including the well-known Puffin, are highly threatened. Photo: Andy Hay/RSPB-images
By Sanya Khetani-Shah

More than a quarter of the UK’s 244 bird species are now of the ‘highest conservation concern’, according to Birds of Conservation Concern 4, a report compiled by a coalition of the UK’s leading bird conservation and monitoring organisations – including the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).

This number (67) is higher than in the last assessment in 2009, where 52 species (21%) were on the Red List. The revised Red List now includes even more well-known birds, most of them first-timers, including the Curlew, Puffin, Kittiwake and Nightingale. They join other familiar species such as the Turtle Dove, Cuckoo and Starling. Two birds, including the Wryneck, have not been assessed because they no longer breed in the UK.

Most species were placed on the Red List because of their severe declines, having halved in numbers or range in the UK in recent decades. Others remain well below historical levels, or are considered under threat of global extinction.

“This update highlights the continued erosion of the UK’s wildlife. It is sobering that much-loved species such as Curlew, Puffin and Nightingale are now of highest conservation concern in the UK,” said Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director. 

Birds of Conservation Concern 4 reviews the status of all regularly occurring birds in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Each species was assessed against a set of objective criteria and placed on the Green, Amber or Red List – indicating an increasing level of conservation concern.

“We must remain optimistic. This latest assessment shows that when have diagnosed the problem, identified solutions, and when conservation action is targeted and adequately funded, we can bring species back from the brink,” Harper added.

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However, the 2015 assessment does contain some good news and demonstrates that targeted conservation action can make a real difference. Three species (Bittern, Nightjar and Dunlin) have been removed from the Red List and added to Amber thanks to a rise in numbers. 

In 1997, Bitterns were heading towards a second extinction with only 11 booming males recorded in England. Thanks to efforts to improve its habitat and significant funding from two projects under the EU LIFE Programme, this year, 150 booming males were counted in England and Wales, more than at any time since the early 19th century. An additional 22 species, including the red kite and woodlark, have moved from the Amber to the Green list; meaning they are now of the lowest conservation concern.

“There’s good news and bad in this report. Though it’s easy to get disheartened by the worsening status of our bird populations, the key message is that if we have the knowledge and the support, we can turn fortunes around,” Richard Hearn, head of monitoring at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), one of the organisations collaborating on the report, said. “Birds of Conservation Concern brings together all the latest knowledge and helps us build the case for supporting conservation of the species most in need.” 


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