Scotland’s woodland and farmland birds increase

Goldfinch. ©Lorne Gill For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

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Scotland’s woodland and farmland bird numbers have increased over the past two decades but, during this time, upland birds have faced decline.

That is according to a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report published last week entitled, The Official Statistic for Terrestrial Breeding Birds.

The latest results reveal varied trends for Scotland’s terrestrial breeding birds, with woodland birds increasing by 67 per cent between 1994 and 2016, farmland birds increasing by 13 per cent, but upland birds decreasing by eight per cent.

Woodland specialists, such as great-spotted woodpecker and chiffchaff, have shown the largest increases. Great-spotted woodpeckers have expanded across Europe, possibly as a result of increased forests and woodlands becoming more connected.

For farmland species, goldfinches have continued to increase and are now a common sight in most gardens. Whitethroat, a small migratory warbler, has also bounced back from its historical lows associated with droughts in its Sahelian overwintering grounds in Africa.

Upland birds are the most concerning group, with declines for 10 of the 17 species. Among the largest declines are breeding waders, including curlew, golden plover and lapwing.  Major work is under way to help tackle these declines, including extensive peatland restoration and the Working for Waders project.

Simon Foster, SNH’s trends analyst, said: ‘It’s wonderful to see that woodland and farmland birds are not only holding their own in Scotland, but that many are thriving. However, with some upland birds struggling, there are a lot of people and projects working hard to improve conditions for waders – some of which have seen worrying declines. We and many of our partners are hoping to see these birds fare better in the coming years.’

None of this would be possible without the efforts of volunteers. The data for the report is largely collected by volunteers through the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) Breeding Bird Survey.

Dr Chris Wernham, head of BTO Scotland, added: ‘The Scottish uplands cover a vast area and are a key part of the country’s landscape. Monitoring our upland bird populations presents a unique set of challenges – these are remote, often inaccessible areas, many miles from human population centres.

‘It is thanks to the effort and dedication of intrepid volunteers that we are able to produce this report, which highlights worrying declines among a suite of upland bird species, contrasting with increases in many woodland birds. Through initiatives within the Breeding Bird Survey such as Upland Rovers, we hope to see continued improvements in coverage, enabling greater precision in our estimates of change, and in time allowing us to report trends for a greater number of species.’

SNH is working on strengthening bird populations and biodiversity throughout Scotland. The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Route Map was published by Scottish Government in June 2015. It sets out the big steps needed to implement the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy 2020 Challenge, including restoring ecosystems, conserving wildlife and sustainably managing land, freshwater and the marine environment.

The SBS 2020 Challenge is Scotland’s response to the Aichi Targets set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity calling for a step change in efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and restore essential services that a healthy natural environment provides.