PUFFINS, swifts and kestrels are among 23 birds that have been moved on to the Red list – relating to species of highest conservation concern – across the island of Ireland, according to a new study.
The ‘Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland (BoCCI) 2020-2026’ review is jointly compiled by RSPB NI and BirdWatch Ireland.
This review uses a ‘traffic light’ system to indicate the conservation status of bird species by placing them on three lists – Red (high conservation concern), Amber (medium conservation concern) or Green (low conservation concern).
The study’s stark findings show that a quarter of bird species on the island are now Red-listed.
Of the 211 species studied, BoCCI has placed 54 (25.6 per cent) on the Red list – more birds than ever before – 79 (37.4 per cent) on the Amber list and 78 (37 per cent) on the Green list).
There has been a further catastrophic decline in wading birds, with six more species (including snipe) joining the Red list. Lapwings are another wading bird that has suffered declines.
When grouped by habitat, upland (50 per cent) and farmland (35 per cent) bids have the highest proportions of Red-listed species. Swifts are now Red-listed due to a decline in their breeding population.
The BoCCI report was written by Gillian Gilbert and Andrew Stanbury (both RSPB) and by Lesley Lewis (BirdWatch Ireland).
Gillian Gilbert, RSPB NI Principal Conservation Scientist, said: “It is extremely alarming to see a quarter of bird species on the island of Ireland now on the Red list.
“It’s sad to see swifts and kestrels, among other species, facing such declines, while anyone who has visited the Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre will know and love the puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills on the sea stacks and should rightly be concerned that they are now on the Red list.
“Because these seabirds are doing poorly across Europe and indeed across the world, this makes the birds we have across the island of Ireland crucially important and we need to do everything we can to protect them.
“Natural ecosystems globally face a myriad of pressures including climate change, habitat loss and pollution, but this report shows how nature here is in trouble. Therefore, support for our work and our campaigns calling for targets in law to revive our world are more important than ever.”
Lesley Lewis of BirdWatch Ireland added: “Sadly, the results of this review only go to further show how great the biodiversity crisis is. We really are at a tipping point for our birds and we need to act now.
“We need a combined multilateral approach from all sectors including agriculture, forestry and fisheries, with a strong lead from governments.
“We know from many locally-led projects that habitat protection, restoration and creation can make huge differences, so there is hope that the current trends can be reversed; if not, what will the next assessment in five years show?”
The ever-popular kestrel, known for its characteristic and conspicuous hovering flight, is also now on the Red list.
Changes in land use and in farming practices have affected their prey, while it is possible that secondary poisoning has taken its toll.
Despite all the bad news, there are some positives, with 64 species remaining on the Green list.
Tufted ducks, wigeons and pintails have all moved down from the Red list to the Amber list, while great spotted woodpeckers have expanded their range across Ireland.
And robins have gone from the Amber list to the Green list.
“With robins, it is thought that the severe weather in the two winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 led to declines in their numbers and we are now seeing a recovery from that,” says Gillian Gilbert.
BoCCI is the fourth review looking in detail at the status of birds in Ireland and follows the previous 2014-2019 study (published in 2013).
The paper has just been published in the latest issue of Irish Birds, BirdWatch Ireland’s annual scientific journal.
n RSPB NI’s work to protect the precious species and habitats found across Northern Ireland, as well as its campaigns for targets in law to save nature, need continued support. The charity – which has been operating in Northern Ireland for more than 50 years to inspire a world richer in nature – has more than 11,000 members, around 60 employees, 300 volunteers and 10 reserves.
n For more information or to support RSPB NI’s work, visit www.rspb.org.uk/ni