Breeding Bird Survey 2020 – A tale of two warblers
The latest BTO/RSPB/JNCC Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report – The Breeding Bird Survey 2020 – has been released today. Due to the varying COVID-19 restrictions across the UK, the 2020 BBS report can only publish the latest trends for England, yet despite the limitations, the results make for interesting reading.
The 2020 report shows the very different fortunes of two almost identical warblers in England – the Willow Warbler and the Chiffchaff. Both the Willow Warbler and the Chiffchaff breed throughout England and both are found in woodland, woodland edge and scrub. The results show that over the past 24 years the Willow Warbler has seen its breeding population decline by 45%, whilst that of the Chiffchaff has increased by 114% over the same period.
The report also shows that two other woodland birds, the Nuthatch and the Great Spotted Woodpecker, have seen their populations more than double during the last 24 years, up by 105% and 117% respectively. However, the most staggering rise has been in the increase in the Red Kite population, which has seen an increase of 18,695% over the past 24 years, following a series of successful reintroduction programmes.
Sarah Harris, BBS National Organiser at the BTO, said: "2020 was a very difficult year for many, and it looked like we might have a very poor survey season for BBS coverage and data; the first since 2001 when Foot and Mouth kept us out of the countryside. However, restrictions were lifted just in time for some of our brilliant volunteers to get out and monitor their BBS squares, and it is down to them that we have anything to report on at all! Thanks go to all the current and retired BBS volunteers that we have such a powerful long-term dataset allowing us to track the contrasting fortunes of species such as Willow Warbler and Red Kite."
Dr Mark Eaton, RSPB’s principal conservation scientist, said: "Many of the UK’s birds are struggling, and the losses seen in these species are not sustainable. More needs to be done to stop these declines and help populations recover. Amazing examples of conservation in action such as for the Red Kite show what can be achieved with sufficient commitment, knowledge and resources. It’s been remarkable to see a species once persecuted to near extinction in this country, brought back and welcomed by local communities, with local economies reaping the dividends of the return of this breath-taking species."
Dr Paul Woodcock, Biodiversity Evidence Specialist at JNCC, said: "It’s impressive that despite the reduced data collected in 2020, reliable trends for many species could still be produced from the BBS. This again shows the value of having such a strong long-term dataset – thank you to everyone who has contributed over the years".
The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, with fieldwork conducted by volunteers.