SNH survey shows upland birds in long-term decline

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Woodland and farmland birds are thriving in Scotland but upland birds continue to struggle, according to figures published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

SNH track the abundance of Scotland’s terrestrial breeding birds using results from the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey. The report shows woodland birds increasing by 69 per cent between 1994 and 2017 and farmland birds up by 14 per cent. In contrast, upland birds have decreased by 17 per cent.

Among the woodland birds the biggest long-term rises were for chiffchaff, great spotted woodpecker and blackcap. Tree pipits, willow warblers and song thrush recorded increases of more than 10 per cent between 2016 and 2017.

Goldfinch, whitethroat, and great tit, are now more than twice as abundant as in 1994, while corncrake have also increased by more than 50 per cent.
In the uplands cuckoo, raven and red grouse populations have increased the most since 1994.

However 10 of the 17 upland species surveyed are in significant long-term decline, including curlew and dotterel which have decreased by 62 per cent and 60 per cent respectively.

Climate change and loss of habitat that provides food and cover are factors driving the long-term decline.

SNH and others are taking action to address this, including ambitious habitat restoration work which will help tackle climate change. The trust is using ground-breaking new mapping technology to gain a better understanding of Scotland’s diverse upland habitats, helping us to better target this work.

These improved peatlands will be an essential boost for struggling upland birds and in particular waders such as curlew and golden plover.
Simon Foster, SNH’s trends analyst, said: ‘Upland waders are a real concern and we are working with others to try and help these birds through a range of measures.’