Skip navigation
Print page

The state of the UK's birds 2013

Female dotterel in breeding display, Cairngorms National Park

Image: Steve Knell

The State of the UK's Birds is a series of annual reports summarising the fortunes of bird populations in the United Kingdom.

This is the 14th The state of the UK’s birds (SUKB) report. Published in 2013, it contains results from annual, periodic and one-off surveys and studies from as recently as 2012. 

It draws on many sources of information to give an up-to-date overview of the health of bird populations in the UK and its Overseas Territories.

This report presents the latest results from bird monitoring in the UK and its Overseas Territories. Some of the key headlines include...

New Bird Atlas reveals declines

The newly-published Bird Atlas 2007-11, perhaps the most ambitious bird-monitoring project ever attempted in Britain and Ireland, has given us new maps of the distribution and abundance of all our regular breeding and wintering birds. For example, it tells us that:

  • The breeding range of snipe is now 31 per cent smaller than in 1968-72, and these birds are now long gone from much of their former range in southern England. Their disappearance is linked to agricultural intensification and the drainage of wet pastures
  • The range of wintering pochards has decreased by 21 per cent since 1981-84. This contraction is greater in Ireland (49 per cent) than in Britain (13 per cent)
  • Willow tits have shown one of the most dramatic contractions in range of any species, accelerating from 10 per cent between the first two atlases (covering 1968-72 and 1988-91) to 50 per cent since the early 1990s.

Ups and downs

Turtle doves and wood warblers are continuing to decline, alongside other species of high conservation concern. We should, however, celebrate the ongoing recovery of the long-persecuted red kite.

Many of our breeding waterbirds have increased, including mute swans and tufted ducks, as have some of our common woodland birds such as nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers.

Since 1999, there have been worrying declines in dotterels, which are down 43 per cent, and ring ouzels, which have declined by 29 per cent.

Recent hard winters have hit populations of some of our rare resident breeding birds: bearded tits, Cetti’s warblers and especially Dartford warblers have shown steep declines since 2008.

Wintering populations of a number of waterbirds have declined in recent years. Whilst some declines may be due to shifting ranges, we are concerned that others, such as the decline of pochards, may indicate population-level problems.

Rats bite back overseas

In the UK’s Overseas Territories (OTs), the presence of invasive non-native species remains a huge conservation issue. Ascension frigatebirds and masked boobies have benefited from the removal of cats on Ascension Island. However, the failure of rat eradication on Henderson Island means that the benefits for Henderson reed warblers and many thousands of seabirds may be short-lived.

The state of the UK's birds 2013 is published by the RSPB on behalf of a coalition of NGOs - the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) – and the UK Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies – Natural England (NE), Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

How you can help

Join the RSPB and support our work.

Join today