Climate change ‘has affected a third of UK bird species’

CuckooImage copyright Arterra/Getty
Image caption The cuckoo has the fastest declining population in five of 11 regions of England

Climate change has affected the numbers of about a third of the bird species seen in UK hedgerows and gardens, according to a new study.

Research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has shown an increase in some garden birds like goldcrests as they profit from warmer temperatures.

But it said increased UK temperatures had had an impact on the decline of birds such as cuckoos and turtle doves.

Both species have seen population drops of more than 80% in the past 30 years.

James Pearce-Higgins, director of science at the BTO, said: “The impacts of climate change are real.

“These changes matter, not just because they are a major driver of changes in the British countryside, but because they help us to grasp the impact that climate change is having on the world around us.”

Researchers found climate change had an effect on about a third of the 64 species studied, with three birds going through at least a 10% decrease in population.

Image copyright Arterra/Getty
Image caption Willow warbler numbers are declining in most areas of the country

The analysis broke England down into 11 regions and highlighted the top species for each region in terms of population change.

The BTO said the attribution of specific population shifts to climate change “remains challenging”, but it identified a number of species which were directly affected.

“What we can see from our evidence is a reshuffling of the bird species,” said Dr Pearce-Higgins.

“There are some winners that are doing better and some losers that are not doing so well.

“The northern and upland species are vulnerable – we’re expecting the golden plover, if we do not act, to decline to extinction in the Peak District by the end of the century.”

Which birds are the most affected?

Species experiencing the largest increase or decline in population

The data was gathered from three separate annual surveys that include physical observation of specific areas of the country.

Naturalist Nick Baker said: “If birds like the curlew are going to have a fighting chance, we have to safeguard the places where they currently feed and breed – or even put back some of the mass of habitat we’ve destroyed.”

The curlew population has dropped by about 40% in the past 25 years.

“Birds are amazing creatures – adaptable and resilient – but, as we’ve seen, only up to a point,” Mr Baker added.

“Their sensitivity to changing habitats, changing weather and a changing climate is perhaps a warning we humans would be foolish to ignore.”

Garden birds, such as the robin and blue tit, have seen numbers increase over the past few decades.

This is thought to be because smaller birds tend to be fed by humans and are more likely to survive the milder winters that climate change has brought, the BTO said.

Image copyright Avalon/Getty
Image caption Wading birds like the curlew are in decline in the UK because of rising temperatures, research suggests

This story features on Inside Out in the South West and some other BBC regions on BBC One, Monday 2 September at 19:30 BST.

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