Numbers of most of Scotland’s threatened birds rose in 2017

A Chiffchaff bird perched on a flowering branch. Picture: Reinhard Holzl
A Chiffchaff bird perched on a flowering branch. Picture: Reinhard Holzl
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Last year was a good one for some of Scotland’s most threatened birds as the latest official figures show populations rose in 2017.

However, it’s a small glimmer of hope in a generally bleak picture for many of the country’s best-loved species.

Surveys show that kestrels, which have decreased by more than two thirds over the past quarter century, doubled in number in 2017 compared to the previous year.

Swifts and lapwings also increased, despite long-term declines.

The curlew, which has been red-listed as a conservation priority, also increased slightly – in contrast with a 60 per cent crash in populations since 1994.

The findings come from the latest annual report on the abundance of terrestrial breeding birds, produced by national nature agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Overall, the statistics show upland birds continue to struggle, with ten species suffering major declines between 1994 and 2017.

The outlook is better for many woodland and farmland birds, which have been steadily increasing over the same period.

The chiffchaff has been the biggest winner, with numbers rocketing more than tenfold since 1994 and by 21 per cent in 2017 alone.

Bullfinches, goldfinches and stonechats are also continuing to thrive, with populations growing by 49 per cent, 22 per cent and 64 per cent respectively in 2017.

House sparrows in Scotland have also been bucking the downward trend seen across the UK, increasing by nearly 50 per cent since 1994 and by 18 per cent in 2017.

The largest annual declines were for wheatears, mistle thrush and collared doves, which crashed by 32 per cent, 24 per cent and 20 per cent respectively in 2017.

Experts believe loss of habitat and changes in land use are factors in the declines, while warming temperatures linked to climate change have allowed some species to increase their northerly range.

It’s thought that milder weather conditions from 2016 to 2017 helped boost some of the most challenged species.

Simon Foster, SNH’s trends analyst, said: “These latest figures reflect the long-term trends we have seen for Scotland’s breeding birds.

“There is good news for our woodland and farmland birds, with many species continuing to thrive, but in line with previous years upland birds are facing real challenges.

“Upland waders are a real concern and we are working with others to try and help these birds through a range of measures including restoring their breeding habitats.”

Ben Darvill, from the British Trust for Ornithology Scotland, added: “It is great to see some of our birds doing so well in Scotland, but it is thanks to the hundreds of volunteers that give up their time to take part in the various surveys that we have such a clear picture of how our birds are doing.

“No one is quite sure what Scotland will look like 50 years from now.

“Long-term monitoring helps us to understand the impact of historical changes on our wildlife and, through this, to predict the impact of future changes.”