Birds Of Conservation Concern

Teresa Morris of Islay Wildscapes continuous to blog in her Islay Seasonwatch topic. Today she looks at Islay's (and Scotland's) wildlife from a conservation point of view and tries to raise awareness of the critical/worrying state some of the wildlife we enjoy is in, and the important role Islay plays.

Teresa Morris: The status of birds in the UK is regularly assessed by a partnership of the UK's leading conservation organizations including the British Trust for Ornithology, Countryside Council for Wales, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. Their 2009 assessment of the UK's 246 bird species has recently been published as Birds of Conservation Concern 3

Each bird species is assessed and listed as red, amber or green status using the following criteria as specified in the full report. 'Red list species includes those that are globally threatened, whose population or range has declined rapidly in recent years (i.e. by more than 50% in 25 years), or which have declined historically and not recovered. Amber list species include those whose population or range has declined moderately in recent years (by more than 25% but less than 50% in 25 years), those whose population has declined historically but recovered recently, rare breeders (fewer than 300 pairs), those with internationally important populations in the UK, those with localized populations and those with an unfavorable conservation status in Europe. Species that meet none of these criteria are green-listed.'Continue reading......

The 2009 red list has added widespread bird species such as cuckoo, house sparrow, lapwing, starling and yellow wagtail, together with turtle dove, and grey partridge some of which can be found on Islay. 21 percent of the UKs bird species are now on the red list increasing from 16 percent in 2002 which is quite alarming.

Greenland Whitefront Geese

Summer migrants to the UK including Islay include the cuckoo, wood warbler and tree pipit all of which are rapidly declining. There is a concern that several long-distance migratory birds nesting in Europe and wintering in Africa are increasingly in trouble. Currently 21 of the birds on the red list are summer visitors to the UK, with the majority of these spending the winter in sub-Saharan Africa. There has also been a continued decline in the UK of farmland birds since 2002. Lapwing, a formerly much-more widespread wading bird which can be seen on Islay has been put on the red list in 2009.

Focusing on seabirds around the northern coasts of the UK the arctic skua has moved from the green list in 2002 to the current red list, the only species to do so. The herring gull has joined the red list as its population has more than halved in recent years. Two winter-visiting birds to Islay the dunlin a wading bird, and scaup, a duck have joined the UK red list due to declines in wintering populations. The ongoing decline of the dunlin population has been constantly declining to its lowest levels since recording began.

The UK 2009 assessment does contain some good news as well. Six species (stone-curlew, woodlark, quail, Scottish crossbill, bullfinch and reed bunting) have been moved down to the amber list largely because of a recovery in their numbers or range, or a better understanding of their populations. The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust quotes 'Birds of Conservation Concern 3 has also focused below the level of bird species, to races. Such an approach allows the recognition of the importance of the UK for endemic races. The Greenland white-fronted goose has been put straight onto the red list. This is due to such a rapid decline in numbers that it is classified as globally threatened. The population has suffered a sharp decline - almost 1/3 in 10 years. It is now one of the rarest geese to visit the UK. Islay is an important over wintering location for these geese. The causes of this decline are poorly understood. However, two possible causes are suspected:

  • increased spring snow cover leaving less room for breeding - climate change is increasing the amount of snow that falls during the winter in Greenland. The snow cover is deeper and stays longer in the spring. This leaves less exposed habitat to support the geese when they return to breed
  • increased Canada goose population within those breeding areas is further increasing competition'

    This report certainly highlights some major changes in populations of UK bird species many of which are resident, migrate to, breed or overwinter on Islay. It focuses the mind on the importance and specialness of the diverse mosaic of habitats which Islay offers and the part it plays on a more global scale in bird migration.

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