Biodiversity indicators

Biodiversity indicators are widely accepted to be an excellent way to report on general trends not just within wildlife populations but also on the state of the wider environment.

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, gathering above reed bed at Ham Wall RSPB reserve, winter roost, patterns seen were caused by predator Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus

Overview

Biodiversity indicators are used by the UK government and country administrations, the EU and many European countries to measure progress in safeguarding and enhancing biodiversity and in fulfilment of international treaties and agreements (such as the Convention on Biological Diversity). They are also being developed and established elsewhere.

The RSPB, working closely with a large number of partners, has developed a range of biodiversity indicators for birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats and countries/regions. Such indicators can be excellent tools for communicating on the state of nature. Related work has gone one step further in creating an indicator of pressures on nature by looking into the impacts of climatic change on bird populations.  

In collaboration with BirdLife International and the BirdLife Africa Partnership secretariat, the Global Wild Bird Index (GWBI) project is currently supporting recently established Common Bird Monitoring schemes in Botswana, Kenya and Uganda. This project page covers Wild Bird Indicators (WBI) for England, the UK and Europe, the Climatic Impact Indicator (CII), the Priority Species Indicator (PSI) and the GWBI project.

Objectives

  • The annual reporting of the state of wild birds in the UK and England, disaggregated into habitats and countries/regions to highlight particular trends of concern. The development of new indicators and the improvement of existing ones as and when possible to ensure they remain the best possible resource.  
  • The Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS) uses trends in common breeding birds, synthesised into a Wild Bird Indicator, as an indicator of the general state of nature in Europe and EU by working in collaboration with a huge array of conservation and research organisations in 28 countries across Europe.
  • The Priority Species Indicator (PSI) is a biodiversity indicator, currently reported at a UK scale only developed in order to assess the changing status of species identified as conservation priority species in the four countries of the UK. This indicator is the first UK indicator to report across all nature.  
  • The global Wild Bird Index project seeks to mobilise relevant information on bird trends globally and to encourage the establishment of breeding bird surveys in countries and regions where none exist.
  • Successful, sustainable Common Bird Monitoring schemes in several African countries which will help develop bird monitoring and research skills in African BirdLife partners and other conservation organisations. Annual reporting of population trends for common and widespread birds at national and regional scales. In the longer-term, develop a Pan-African Wild Bird Index.  

Key Dates

  • UK & England Wild bird Indicators are produced annually for the following: all-species and farmland, woodland, seabirds, water & wetland birds and wintering waterbirds, as official UK Biodiversity and England Biodiversity Strategy indicators. Most indicators start in 1970 and run up to the year before the current year. The farmland bird indicator has been instrumental in highlighting the huge decline of farmland birds in the UK and driving the policy response to this loss.
  • PECBMS has published European/EU species' indices and Wild Bird Indicators for common farmland and forest birds on a near-annual basis since 2002. The indicator runs from 1980 to the year before the current and now includes data from over 20 countries. European Wild Bird Indicators have been adopted by the EU as official biodiversity indicators.
  • The PSI, first revealed in draft as the "Watchlist indicator" in the State of Nature report in 2013, has been developed further and is now adopted as indicator C4a in the UK's Biodiversity Indicators.  
  • The European CII was developed and published in 2009. It has been adopted as an official indicator by the EEA.  
  • African CBM schemes have been established in Botswana (2009), Kenya (2011) and Uganda (2009).  A paper on the initial results of these schemes has been produced in 2016.

Progress

PECBMS now provides Europe-wide population trends for 169 species (up to 2016). European WBIs have been produced and are being used to measure progress towards the target of the new EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 - halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020 and restoring them in so far as feasible, while stepping up EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss.

WBIs have recently been published for North America and Australia, and WBI initiatives have begun in Africa and Asia. In Africa, more than 480 transects have been surveyed at least once in Botswana, nearly 100 in Kenya and more than 120 in Uganda. 

Planned Work

UK and England Wild Bird Indicators are produced on an annual timetable, with publication in the autumn, and the PSI will be produced to a similar timetable. Development work continues and refinements of the PSI include more species based on trends in range (rather than the standard abundance trends) and the use of statistical smoothing methods. PECBMS will continue to grow in species inclusion and geographical extent.  

The development of Common Bird Monitoring schemes worldwide is ongoing. The GWBI project is continuing to provide support to the schemes in Botswana, Kenya and Uganda and is looking to facilitate the development of sustainable monitoring schemes in the medium term in other countries.

Results

Wild Bird Indicators illustrate the massive decline and subsequent lack of recovery of farmland and woodland birds in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. Seabird populations have shown a steady decline in recent years, but breeding birds of water & wetlands have remained relatively stable. The wintering waterbird indicator is way above its starting level, although even that has shown signs of decline in recent years.    

The European Wild Bird Indicator shows a similar pattern for farmland birds in Europe. European-wide changes in agricultural practices drove a decline in numbers to approximately 50 per cent of 1980 levels, although overall populations of forest birds have remained stable. In addition to the WBI, The PSI shows how populations of priority species suffered up to a 60 per cent decline over the 40 years from 1970.  

The CII, which illustrates the impact of climate change on bird populations, has increased strongly in the past twenty years, coinciding with a period of rapid climatic warming in Europe.

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Dr Fiona Burns

Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

fiona.burns@rspb.org.uk
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Mark Eaton

Principal Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

mark.eaton@rspb.org.uk
Coast on a stormy day

Prof Richard Gregory

Head of Species Monitoring and Research, Conservation Science

richard.gregory@rspb.org.uk
Coast on a stormy day

Simon Wotton

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

simon.wotton@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Country: England Country: Northern Ireland Country: Scotland Country: Wales Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Heathland Habitat: Marine and intertidal Habitat: Upland Habitat: Urban and suburban Habitat: Wetland Habitat: Woodland Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research