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Britain’s wild birds in decline

The latest figures from DEFRA confirms that Britain's wild bird decline continues, with numbers down across different habitats and species

The past 40 years have seen Britain’s overall breeding wild bird population shrink by 12 percent, according to the latest figures released by DEFRA and the Office for National Statistics.

The degree of decline varies by species and habitat, though some birds buck the negative trends affecting their near neighbours:

  • Farmland birds have fared the worst, with numbers dropping by 55 per cent since 1970
  • Woodland birds are down 28 per cent
  • Seabirds are at their lowest level and down by 24 per cent on 1986
  • Water and wetland birds have declined by 17 per cent

With the exception of woodland birds, declines of around ten per cent have also been noted in the past five years, indicating that populations are still suffering.

Populations of wintering waterbirds, in contrast, have overall seen marked increases since the 1970s – with an almost sevenfold increase in avocets – but the last decade has seen growth falter and, in the case of wintering waders, reverse. Some species of wintering wader, including the ringed plover and dunlin, never saw an increase and are more than a third down on their 1970s levels.

The report lists potential causes of the farmland bird decline, which include changes in land management, intensification of farming, the increased use of pesticides and fertilisers and removal of hedgerows. For waders, land management changes, in particular drainage, are cited as key factors along with predation. Woodland birds are thought to have been negatively affected by increased pressure from deer browsing and lack of woodland management. For migrants, overseas factors are also potentially significant.

Some of the few species that have seen increases inspite of the general wild bird decline are jackdaws, woodpigeon, mallard, tufted duck, great spotted woodpecker and sparrowhawk.

To read the latest figures in full, visit