Research News



Latest News

Wild bird populations statistics update

November 9, 2023
Charlotte Bartleet-Cross

On the 7th November 2023, DEFRA posted updated statistics on wild bird populations in the UK from 1970 to 2022. As expected, it is a sorry state of affairs for our feathered friends. See our summary below and our suggestions for what you can do to help:

  • All bird species combined have shown a 15% decline over the last 45 years, with short term declines of 6% over the last 5 years.
  • The farmland bird index has declined by 60% since 1970, with a majority of these changes linked to changes in agricultural practices, though even in the last 5 years this change has been upheld by a decline of 8% in the last 5 years.
  • Within the farmland generalists, songbirds include greenfinch, reed buntings, jackdaws, rooks and yellow wagtails. The hardest hitting figures come from the specialist farmland songbirds, with all songbirds suffering large declines apart from goldfinches. These specialists include corn bunting (-86%), linnet (-57%), skylark (-55%), starling (-82%),tree sparrow (-92%), whitethroat (-12%) and yellowhammer (-62%) all declining over the last 45 years.
  • Woodland bird populations have decreased by 37% since 1970, and this trend has been upheld in the short-term with 15% declines reported over the last 5 years. The cause of these declines are thought to be due to a combination of over-grazing by deer, woodland management practices, and changes to habitat and land use bordering woodland environments.
  • Specialist woodland songbirds were badly affected, with lesser redpolls (-88%), marsh tits (-76%), nightingale (-46%), pied flycatcher (-56%), spotted flycatcher (-92%), tree pipits (-76%) and wood warblers (-79%) declining substantially over the last 45 years.
  • Upland bird species have declined by 13% since 1994, with a decline of 5% in the last 5 years. These birds are vulnerable to changes in management of upland environments, including the establishing of new woodlands for commercial use (mostly conifers), and climate change extreme weather events such as droughts.
  • Upland songbird species that have declined include whinchat (-53%), wheatear (-22%), twite (-22%), ring ouzel (-29%), meadow pipit (-11%), pied wagtail (-29%) and hooded crow (-48%).

How to help

  • Plant more hedgerows, trees and native plants- Habitat loss is one of the major drivers in songbird declines. As our landscape becomes increasingly urbanised, it takes away places to nest, shelter and forage. Whilst we cannot stop this increasing urbanisation, we can welcome nature back into our own space by planting hedgerows, trees and other native plants to encourage wildlife.
  • Support farmland birds- If you live near to farmland  and your local songbirds are struggling, providing food for these farmland birds is essential. Many changes in agricultural practices have led to more efficient planting for farmers, but less available food for songbirds, try putting out a grain mix to encourage a variety of farmland birds to flourish in your local area.
  • Ditch the pesticides- An increasing body of evidence shows that pesticides are responsible for plummeting insect populations, and may also have direct impacts on the populations of songbirds. These same insects are often responsible for pollinating our crops, and are food for songbirds and other wildlife. By ditching the pesticides, we welcome insects into our gardens and nature's best 'pest' controllers'- birds!
  • Keep feeders and water baths clean- The last few years have highlighted that the health of our wild birds should not be taken for granted, with avian flu, avian pox and Trichomonosis just a few of the diseases that can affect the birds we know and love. The best way to protect them is to keep on top of cleaning regiments of our feeders and water baths to ensure we do not promote the spread of these diseases in our gardens. For more information on how to clean garden feeders, click here.
  • Changing climate and weather worries- Our changing climate gives many obstacles for songbirds to overcome, with unpredictable weather becoming more frequent, we must do everything we can to alleviate the pressure. Provide water year-round for songbirds, as it can be difficult when it is very hot, and very cold for them to have access to clean, fresh water. During winter, if you provide food to birds, put it out food that is high in fat at the same time each day so that they do not waste energy, as they need it to keep warm. Providing shelter is also important to keep birds safe during changeable weather, so access to dense hedges, nest boxes and trees is a must.
  • Join us, lobby for change and spread awareness- SongBird Survival's greatest mission is to halt the decline of songbirds, and hopefully allow populations to flourish and spread, increasing biodiversity from where we are today. Join us and spread our messaging on our current research projects, solutions and advice and lobby for change with your local MPs for more green space and protections in your local area for wildlife.

Main graphical image taken from the report with data sourced by BTO, RSPB and JNCC

get in touch