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Why is this National Indicator important?
Terrestrial breeding birds are a good indicator of overall biodiversity. Birds respond quickly to variation in habitat quality, through changes in breeding output, survival or dispersal. Since most bird species are relatively easy to identify and count, are geographically widespread, are abundant and active during daytime, and are extremely well counted and recorded annually, they are often used as indicators of environmental change.
Terrestrial breeding birds in Scotland comprise both resident and migratory species. They include: familiar garden species such as blackbird Turdus merula and robin Erithacus rubecula; woodland species such as willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus and goldcrest Regulus regulus; farmland species such as linnet Carduelis cannabina and goldfinch Carduelis carduelis; and birds of the uplands such as raven Corvus corax and black grouse Tetrao tetrix.
What will influence this National Indicator?
The key factors include the quality of habitats, farm management practices and environmental change.
Wildlife depends on quality habitats in which to thrive. These habitats provide essential food and shelter and freedom from predation and pollution. Habitat destruction and change are major factors in causing a species population to decrease.
Farm management practices have a large effect on wildlife, so changes in these practices may offer opportunities and threats to biodiversity. We now recognise the importance of achieving a balance between the sensitive management of our natural heritage in order to maintain and enhance that biodiversity. We also recognise the importance of sustaining a viable agricultural industry and of ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities.
Agri-environment management enhances biodiversity in a number of ways, including:
- Basic environmental requirements to manage stock in an environmentally sensitive manner.
- Identification of Biodiversity Action Plan species which will benefit from environmentally-friendly land management.
- Measures targeted at protecting and enhancing particular habitats rich in biodiversity, such as the Management of Lowland Raised Bogs measure.
Birds, as with other species, are affected by changes in climate. Scientists predict that our biodiversity will be severely compromised by it. Better predictors are available for birds than for other biodiversity. Just how climate change will affect wildlife is difficult to grasp - and the effects interact. They include:
- Impacts on climate 'space' or the places where favourable climate conditions exist for particular species.
- Changes in the timing of seasonal events which can lead to ecological mismatches, such as a lack of food for young birds.
- The impacts of extreme weather conditions which, if more harsh and frequent, can affect populations and species
- Changes in community ecology, which may lead to competitive advantages for different species.
- Changes in land use and management, where changes in farming, forestry and water management, and many other land uses, are likely to impact on wildlife.
What is the Government's role?
Improving quality of habitats, and delivering on the Species Framework. Scottish Natural Heritage has the main responsibility for delivering this National Indicator. Significant contributions will also come from Forestry Commission Scotland in their area of operation. These bodies set priorities and direction, and provide financial support to land owners and others to secure improvement in the condition of habitat features and for priority species. Some of this support will be delivered under the Scotland Rural Development Programme. All public bodies have a statutory duty to further biodiversity conservation as they undertake their functions and responsibilities. Co-ordinated action can also be secured locally through Local Biodiversity Action Plans.
How are we performing?
Birds can respond relatively quickly to variations in habitat quality, through changes in breeding output, survival or dispersal. Since most bird species are relatively easy to identify and count, geographically widespread, abundant and diurnal, birds are often used as indicators of environmental change. In this case it is being used as a proxy measure of biodiversity, as biodiversity cannot be measured by a single indicator. Latest figures show a decrease in the mean index for 65 terrestrial breeding bird species to 120 in 2009 from 129 in 2008 and a baseline of 100 in 1994.
View data on terrestrial breeding birds
Source: British Trust for Ornithology, Royal Society for Protection of Birds
This evaluation is based on: any difference in the index within +/- 3 points of last year's figure suggests that the position is more likely to be maintaining than showing any change. An increase of 3 index points or more suggests the position is improving; whereas a decrease of 3 index points or more suggests the position is worsening.
For information on general methodological approach, please click here.
Scotland Performs Technical Note
Statistics Topic Page
Who are our partners?
Scottish Natural Heritage
Forestry Commission Scotland
Deer Commission Scotland
Related Strategic Objectives