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One fifth of Europe's birds face the threat of extinction

Last modified: 03 June 2015

Puffin carrying sandeels in bill

Puffins are among 37 species on the list that visit the UK

Image: David J Morris

A new assessment of European birds has revealed that nearly one fifth (18 per cent) are considered to be at risk of extinction across the European Union. 

The main threats? Habitat loss, climate change and increasingly intensive farming. 

The list contains 37 species which occur regularly in the UK - including the lapwing, puffin and curlew.

It's taken three years of work to produce the new report, the European Red List of Birds. We believe it will set the base for European conservation and policy work for the coming years. 

Red warning for birds across Europe

The European Red List of Birds assesses birds across two geographical levels: the European Union (except Croatia); and the wider continent of Europe (from Greenland in the west to Turkey and European Russia in the east).

Martin Harper, the RSPB's Conservation Director, said: 'These red list assessments provide another red warning that nature across Europe is in trouble. 

'It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago that birds like the lapwing and curlew would be threatened species in Europe - the status of many species is deteriorating. However, European conservation action, guided by the Birds Directive is helping species like the stone-curlew, Dalmatian pelican, avocet and crane.'

Of the 451 species assessed across the European Union, 18 per cent (82 species) are threatened. Of those, 11 are Critically Endangered; 16 Endangered and 55 Vulnerable.

Birds in the UK 

Of 246 regularly-occurring birds in the UK, 37 species have been assessed as at risk of extinction in the European Union. 

The Balearic shearwater, a regular seabird visitor from the Mediterranean to UK shores, is listed as Critically Endangered: the highest category of threat. Other species, such as the black-tailed godwit, eider, Arctic skua and kittiwake, are listed as Endangered - the second-highest category of threat.

Birds in Europe

Of the 533 species assessed across Europe, 67 (13 per cent) are threatened across the wider continent. Ten species are Critically Endangered (the highest threat level), including the sociable lapwing, yellow-breasted bunting and slender-billed curlew. The study also found that 18 species are Endangered and an additional 39 Vulnerable.

Still in trouble...

The conservation status of some species that were identified as being in trouble a decade ago hasn't improved. This list includes: Egyptian vulture, aquatic warbler, greater spotted eagle and little bustard.

On the up

A total of 20 species were previously considered regionally threatened and are now classified as Least Concern in Europe. These include some charismatic species, such as Dalmatian pelican, ferruginous duck, stone-curlew, black kite, lesser kestrel, black-throated diver and great bustard. 

Another 25 species are still threatened in Europe, but now have a lower extinction risk than a decade ago. For example, Zino's petrel and Azores bullfinch, both previously considered to be Critically Endangered, are now classified as Endangered.

'Much broader and deeper response' needed

Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Policy, said: "These reports contain some worrying statistics - but they also show the value of well-targeted actions to protect the biodiversity we depend on. 

'Our task is to find ways of building on those successes, and spreading them to other areas. They are also a valuable input to our on-going Fitness Check - Europe needs nature legislation that is fit for purpose.'

Christina Ieronymidou, the European Species Programme Officer at BirdLife, said: 'The European Red List tells us that we have done a decent job at rescuing the rarest species. But we are now faced with much bigger challenges, from the ecological degradation of our farmland to climate change. These problems require a much broader and deeper response.'

The European Red List of Birds has been published after three years of work by a consortium led by BirdLife International and financed by the European Commission. The Red List, which follows the International Union for Conservation of Nature methodology, is widely recognised as the most authoritative and objective system for assessing the extinction risk of species. 

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