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Scotland: better for birds?

Latest results from the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) show that many bird species are doing better in Scotland than south of the border.  The BBS is the primary source of information about our countryside birds, and results from the 2007 survey show that the Scottish populations of familiar birds such as cuckoo and skylark are bucking the UK trends.

A diverse range of breeding birds increased significantly in Scotland between 1994 and 2007, despite either declining, or showing no significant change, in the UK as a whole.  These include cuckoo (+39%), house martin (+152%), treecreeper (+60%) and house sparrow (+30%).

The fortunes of our countryside birds are closely linked with the habitats they use, and many species obviously find the conditions in Scotland more to their taste. Looking at different population trends in different parts of the UK can lead to the causes of the changes – the first step towards targeted conservation solutions.  The story of the cuckoo is particularly complex, as their breeding success is dependent on that of their host species, in whose nests they lay their eggs.  The main hosts in Scotland are dunnocks, which have also increased significantly in Scotland since 1994, and meadow pipits, which declined significantly.

The differences between the UK and the Scottish trends are particularly evident for some farmland birds.  Numbers of skylark (+2%), starling (+1%), linnet (+26%) and yellowhammer (+15%) remained stable in Scotland, despite significant declines in the UK overall, suggesting that they are not subject to such intense land-management pressures as further south. Jacqui Kaye, from the BTO’s Scottish office, says, “Bird numbers are a useful indicator of the general health of our countryside, and governments are trying to reverse the dramatic declines we’ve seen in our farmland birds through agri-environment schemes.  With that in mind, it’s great to see that farmland birds are managing to hold on in Scotland”.

The British Trust for Ornithology are able to follow the fortunes of birds in Scotland thanks to volunteer birdwatchers, who walked a collective 2,000 km for the BBS in 2007, counting nearly 96 thousand individual birds of 167 species.  These counts are essential for keeping track of Scottish bird populations, so we need more birdwatchers to cover BBS squares in Scotland!  We’d urge anyone interested in taking part next year to find out more at www.bto.org/bbs.

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