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More UK Birds Sliding Towards Extinction

Red List Data

Two more of the UK’s regularly nesting birds are heading towards extinction, following today’s global revision of the list of birds in danger, says the RSPB.

In the latest revision of the ‘Red List’ by BirdLife International [note], the curlew and the Dartford warbler have been listed as Near Threatened, only one step below those species facing global extinction. Today’s additions swell the numbers of nesting Near Threatened birds in the UK to five; joining the red kite, corncrake and black-tailed godwit on the list of birds facing potential peril.In the UK, the curlew – a large wader of open habitats - is a widespread, but rapidly-declining species in many areas. The Dartford warbler – a bird more or less confined to heathland - is actually expanding its range rapidly from the southern counties of England, largely because of heathland conservation and restoration programmes and milder winters. However, the warbler is declining rapidly in other parts of its European range, meaning the UK’s population is of greater global significance. Today’s assessments are based on the population declines of both birds across their global ranges. The curlew is found across a belt of central and northern Europe and Asia, while 90 per cent of the Dartford warbler is found in southern and western Europe.In the UK, the curlew has declined by 53 per cent between 1970 and 2005, and by 37 per cent between 1994 and 2006. Between 28 and 35 per cent of the western European curlew population nests in the UK. The global population is suspected to have fallen by 20 to 30 per cent in the past 15 years.

BirdLife International believes the Dartford warbler may have declined in Europe by 40 per cent in the last 10 years. In its Spanish heartland, the warbler decreased by nearly six per cent per year between 1998 and 2006. Although, in the UK, the Dartford warbler has extended its range and increased its population to a total of 3209 territories in 2006.Globally, the majority of species on the Red List are confined to islands or have very small ranges, perhaps limited by available habitat.

Dr David Gibbons, the RSPB’s chief scientist, said: “Since 1600 only two species of European bird - the great auk and the Canarian black oystercatcher - have become globally extinct. But the inclusion of widespread and familiar species like the curlew and the Dartford warbler to the list of birds facing trouble is deeply concerning and a warning that we will lose more species without urgent action. It is a sign that more and more birds are unable to cope with the fundamental changes, like habitat destruction and climate change, that we are wreaking on our continent and the planet. Currently, 50 out of Europe’s 540 bird species are on a path towards extinction. We now need more urgent action to prevent some of our once-familiar birds from joining the great auk in the extinction ledger.”One of the key ways the RSPB is working to improve the fortunes of threatened birds is through positive habitat management. For example, working with partners in the upper Thames valleys, the RSPB has achieved a 380 per cent increase in curlew numbers, largely by creating the wetland and grassland habitats the curlew needs. Across southern Britain conservation groups, including the RSPB, have created and recreated heathland habitats needed by the Dartford warbler. From a low-point in the summer of 1963, when an extremely cold winter brought the UK population crashing to around a dozen pairs - the UK’s population has increased dramatically.The reasons behind the Dartford warbler’s European decline are still unclear, but cold winters in parts of Spain has been cited as a possible factor. Additionally, an increase in the number of cattle, and a rise in the amount of tree cover in key habitats could also be factors leading to the decline.

It is also unclear why the curlew is rapidly declining as a breeding bird. Habitat changes across the curlew’s UK and global ranges have affected the population and research has shown that mammalian predators, such as foxes and stoats, take large numbers of eggs and chicks in some locations.

The global perspective

Although the UK has five species of Near Threatened bird, The UK mainland doesn’t have any globally-threatened nesting birds, but the 14 UK overseas territories have 32 species which are facing global extinction, including four species which are critically endangered – the highest category of threat.

Following the revision of the Red List, 1,226 species of bird are now threatened with global extinction. This figure represents around one-in-eight of the world’s bird species.

4th July 2014