Scots linnet numbers down to 20-year low

A Linnet, showing its characteristic red breast and forehead. Picture: Contributed
A Linnet, showing its characteristic red breast and forehead. Picture: Contributed
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POPULATIONS of one of Scotland’s smallest and most tuneful finches have plummeted to their lowest levels in 20 years, a new report revealed yesterday.

The number of linnets recorded in the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) annual breeding bird survey almost halved between 2011 and 2012 (by 49 per cent) to a record low since monitoring began in 1994.

Once a favourite with people who keep caged birds, due to their melodious song, linnets were already red-listed on the Birds of Conservation Concern list after populations across the UK previously dropped by an estimated 57 per cent between 1970 and 2008.

The latest survey also showed that while linnets suffered the greatest percentage fall, swifts were also in the top three hardest-hit bird species with numbers falling by 42 per cent in Scotland – the third year in a row where populations dropped. That followed a fall of 57 per cent in swifts north of the Border since the mid-1990s.

Experts said the late spring and recent bad weather may have caused the latest “alarming” declines, which brought calls for greater action to help the most threatened species survive. It was not all bad news, however, as several species that had been declining since 2008 rose significantly in the past year, including wrens, one of Scotland’s tiniest birds, where numbers increased by 66 per cent.

Goldcrests also saw a reversal of fortune, with previously falling populations increasing by 34 per cent between 2011 and 2012.

Jeremy Wilson, head of conservation science at RSPB Scotland, said: “In under 20 years, we have lost more than half of our kestrels, lapwings, curlews and swifts. This is deeply concerning and should act as a wake-up call, not just to conservationists, but also landowners, government agencies and the general public.

“We can all play a part to help give nature a home, be it by providing suitable habitat, improving legislation or increasing research to understand the causes of decline. If we fail to do this, we run the serious risk of losing these species from our countryside forever.”

Kate Risely, survey organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, said: “While swifts can be hard to monitor, a recorded 40 per cent decline in these charismatic birds rings alarm bells.” However, she added: “Many birds are declining in Scotland, but it’s good to see that numbers of wrens and goldcrests are showing signs of recovery after being hit hard by cold winters.”

The yearly survey which records population trends for 61 bird species in Scotland is based on counts by volunteers conducted in 380 1km squares across the country. Linnets were recorded in just 87 of the survey sites last year, a fall of 49 per cent on the previous year. Total UK population numbers are estimated to be about 430,000, the BTO said.