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The 37th Annual Report of the Wetland Birds Survey

News Item 2019

Waterbirds in the UK 2017/18

Image: Photo of a Eurasian TealThe 37th Annual Report of the Wetland Birds Survey (WeBS) - Waterbirds in the UK 2017/18 - was published online today at www.bto.org/wituk. WeBS is a long-running scheme monitoring the populations of the UK’s wintering waterbirds which aims to assess the size of waterbird populations, determine trends in numbers and distribution, and assess the importance of individual sites, in line with the requirements of international conservation conventions and directives.

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) is a partnership jointly funded by BTO, RSPB and JNCC, in association with WWT, with fieldwork conducted by thousands of volunteers. In 2017/18 3,195 volunteer WeBS counters surveyed a record number of 2,847 sites across UK’s estuaries and large inland waters. UK wetlands and coastline are internationally significant for wintering waterbirds. For instance, they hold up to a quarter of the world’s population of curlew.

Data from WeBS feed into national and international population estimates. Earlier this year revised population estimates of wintering waterbird populations, largely derived from WeBS data, were published in British Birds and Irish Birds. These show that an estimated 12.8 million waterbirds rely on British wetlands in the winter, with a further 760,000 on the island of Ireland. Protected areas are important – the UK’s SPA (Special Protection Area) network alone holds over a third of these wintering waterbirds.

While the total estimate is a very similar figure to the previous overall estimate published in 2011, the detail shows that many changes have happened in the intervening years. The most notable is a reduction in the numbers of waders and an increase in geese. These general changes are also apparent in the trend analysis presented in the WeBS annual report. It should be noted however that there are variations within these groups, with some waders showing increases, and some geese declining.

There is a wide variety of drivers that can impact on bird numbers, with different species or species groups responding to these drivers differently. Factors that can affect bird numbers include the conditions in the nesting area(s), changes in wetland management, deterioration in water quality, change in land use or habitat, lead poisoning as a result of ingestion of discarded lead shot, and climate change. Understanding species trends and the factors that impact them is important in helping us to manage and protect wetlands and the waterbirds that rely on them.

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