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Latest Wetland Bird Survey statistics published

News Item 2023

The latest (40th) Annual Report of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) – Waterbirds in the UK 2021/22 – providing statistics up to June 2022, has been published today on the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) website.

The wetlands and coastline of the UK are internationally significant for wintering waterbirds, due to the country’s climate, its position on bird migration routes, and a large number of estuarine feeding grounds. This means that an internationally important proportion of the world population of many waterbird species or subspecies occur in the UK, including Greenland White-fronted Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Bewick’s Swan and Whooper Swan, as well as waders such as Knot, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit.

The long-running Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) is the main scheme for monitoring the populations of these wintering waterbird populations. The scheme aims to assess the size of non-breeding 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 statistics provide an important indicator of the status of wetland birds, and the health of wetlands.

A record number of sites (3,326 sites) were surveyed, by a record number (approximately 3,694) of volunteers in 2021/22, The latest report results show the following:

  • Common wintering wader species such as Avocet, Sanderling, Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwit show a long term increase, but many other common waders have been declining since the early to mid-1990s.
  • The majority of the common species of ducks show declining 10-year trends, with Pochard, Mallard and Smew experiencing a record low index.
  • Numbers of many goose species have shown increasing population trends over the past 20 to 30 years, though some, such as Taiga Bean Goose, are continuing to decline.
  • Swans show a mixed picture: Berwick Swans have continued to decline to a new historic low, while the Mute Swan population is fairly stable and Whooper Swans are increasing.
  • Other waterbirds, such as Coot and Red-necked Grebe continue to decline. However, recently colonising species such as Great White Egret, Cattle Egret and Spoonbill continue to show increases.
  • In response to conservation measures, including a re-introduction programme, Crane populations were at an all-time high. 

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) is a partnership jointly funded by BTO, RSPB and JNCC, with fieldwork conducted by volunteers and previous support from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). The WeBS Annual Report also incorporates data from surveys which are part of the BTO/JNCC/NatureScot Goose and Swan Monitoring Programme (GSMP).

The partnership is indebted to the thousands of WeBS and GSMP volunteers who give their time and skills to collect the data used in these statistics.

For more information, visit the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) Annual Report webpage

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