Bird surveys in the UK

Data on the state of the UK’s birds, collected largely by volunteers, provides a crucial part of the evidence base underpinning conservation.

Staff at work Rob Macklin, former warden, making a bird census. North Warren RSPB reserve, Suffolk


Effective conservation relies on surveillance programmes. In order to identify what the most pressing problems are, allow resources to be prioritised to address these problems and subsequently to assess whether our conservation action has been successful.

Working in partnership, the RSPB supports a wide range of annual and periodic surveys to monitor the populations of the UK's regularly occurring birds. Most of these surveys are delivered through the efforts of the UK's thousands of expert volunteer birdwatchers.

The data collected by these volunteers, supplemented by professional fieldworkers, enables us to make robust assessments of the status of the UK's birds, as well as draw inferences about the health of the wider environment.


  • To provide regular assessments on the status of the UK's regularly occurring bird species, including population trends, population estimates, distribution and numbers at important sites, in order to inform the RSPB's conservation efforts.


Monitoring schemes such as those listed above have run for many decades, with trends available from the 1970s onwards for most of the UK's species. With the exception of the periodic surveys conducted under SCARABBS, they produce annual updates in species trends.

Planned Work

This work area includes RSPB involvement in a range of partnership surveys.
These include:

  • BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS): more than 3,000 randomly-located 1-kilometre squares are counted across the UK every year, providing robust trends in the breeding populations of more than one hundred of our most common and widespread breeding species.
  • BTO/JNCC/RSPB/WWT Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS): the scheme that monitors non-breeding waterbirds in the UK, with around 3000 volunteers carrying out monthly synchronised counts at more than 2000 sites across the country encompassing a range of wetland habitats
  • Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP): seabird numbers and breeding success in Britain and Ireland are monitored by this multi-partner scheme led by the JNCC.  
  • Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP): formed in 1972, the RBBP, supported by JNCC, RSPB & BTO, collects breeding data on more than 80 rare species of birds breeding in the UK. Annual reports are published in the journal British Birds and species accounts for all years and can be accessed on the website.
  • Statutory Conservation Agency and RSPB Annual Breeding Bird Scheme (SCARABBS): an ongoing programme of single-species surveys for conservation priority species not covered adequately by other schemes.
  • BirdTrack is the UK's online bird recording system, started in 2004 as a partnership between the RSPB, BTO, Birdwatch Ireland (BWI), Scottish Ornithologists' Club (SOC) and the Welsh Ornithological Society (WOS). Thousands of birdwatchers use BirdTrack to log their daily bird sightings, allowing them to store and manage their own records, make them available to local bird clubs and allow them to be used for conservation purposes. A BirdTrack App for iPhone and Android is now available.


The various elements of our monitoring programme produce annual reports (see links below) giving the latest on the status of our key breeding and non-breeding bird populations.

In addition, we bring this information together annually in a single, 'one-stop shop' report, The state of the UK's birds. The outputs of this monitoring enable status assessments such as Birds of Conservation Concern 4, and underpin UK and national biodiversity indicators.

Survey data can be used for a wide range of analyses seeking to determine the causes of population change and assessing the impact of conservation.


Most of the monitoring programmes described here are co-funded by a range of partners, including:

  • The British Trust for Ornithology
  • Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust
  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee
  • Natural England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland


Coast on a stormy day

Dr Mark Eaton

Principal Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Prof Richard Gregory

Head of Monitoring, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Daniel Hayhow

Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Simon Wotton

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
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 Species: UK bird species Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research