A new report published by RSPB Northern Ireland and BirdWatch Ireland has identified alarming declines in a number of bird populations across the island of Ireland.
Of 199 species assessed, 25 have been allocated to the ‘Red List’, which names bird populations that require urgent action to secure their future on the island.
The wildlife organisations have published - ‘Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland: 2008-2013’ - in the scientific journal Irish Birds - their second review of the state of native bird populations across the island of Ireland (the first was published in 1999).
The ‘traffic light’ system makes it easy to identify those birds most in need of conservation action. Using information collected by professionals and amateur birdwatchers, scientists from the two organisations have allocated bird species to Red, Amber or Green Lists. The ‘Red List’ includes bird populations that have declined by over 70% and those that are threatened across the world.
Action across the island tends to be focused on those species that benefit from direct conservation intervention, such as the corncrake and lapwing. For others, such as the quail, other measures are taken to help often very small populations.
Commenting, a co-author of the report, Dr James Robinson from the RSPB, said - “This report confirms that we must redouble our efforts to secure the future for many of our most threatened birds. Most of the birds that appear on the ‘Red List’ have suffered from long-term changes to or loss of the habitats they need to survive.
“However, for some migratory birds, we believe milder winters on the continent are reducing the numbers that visit the island of Ireland in the colder months of the year. This is the first time that changes in climate have been identified as a factor leading to appearance on the ‘Red List’."
Dr. Stephen Newton, co-author of the report from BirdWatch Ireland, added - “Since our last report in 1999, the situation has worsened for many of Ireland’s birds. Twenty-five species are now allocated to the Red List, with seven added in the time since 1999. We will lose many of these birds from our shores if concerted and immediate action is not taken. It is only a few short years since the corn bunting went extinct as a breeding species here. Many others are now in danger of following suit.
“Of particular concern are our seabirds, migratory waterfowl and farmland birds. Iconic species such as the barn owl, corncrake, curlew and yellowhammer all face an uncertain future. However, action to help many of these birds is being put in place by BirdWatch Ireland, the RSPB and government agencies. We believe that by working together across this island, the problems faced by our most threatened birds can be overcome to allow recovery."
The news is not all bad. Both the roseate tern and hen harrier have moved from the ‘Red List’ to the ‘Amber List’, demonstrating that nature conservation can work. Both species have benefited from the work of RSPB Northern Ireland, BirdWatch Ireland and the government bodies that are charged with protecting our environment. Others, such as the corncrake and yellowhammer, should follow suit as work continues to improve their fortunes.