October, 2015

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Saving Species

The need for species conservation has never been greater. Despite notable successes in improving the fortunes of a number of bird species, more are being forced onto the list of those that need attention, both globally and in the UK. If we want to have a
  • Latest wild bird indicators

    Guest blog by Dr Mark Eaton, Principal Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.

    The annual Wild Bird Indicators for the UK and England, produced by the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) under contract to Defra, were published yesterday (29 October 2015) in the Defra Wild Bird Populations National Statistics Release.

    What are the wild bird indicators?

    The indicators measure change in populations of a range of species, using 1970 as the baseline year. The indicators are an important measure of the successful role the conservation community and Government play in helping the UK's birds.

    This latest publication updates the indicators for breeding birds of farmland, woodland, water and wetlands, seabirds and all species, and for wintering waterbirds, using data up to 2014. The headline indicator of this publication is the ¬ĎAll Species¬í indicator, which shows trends in population size of 128 species of bird that are native to, and breed in, the UK.

    Chart showing farmland, woodland, wetland, seabird and all species indicators.

    These indicators are an important element of the UK's Biodiversity Indicators, used to assess progress towards Government conservation and environmental goals.

    Each indicator shows the average trend calculated across populations of relevant species, such as the 19 widespread birds in the farmland bird indicator. For most of these (seabirds being the exception) both 'unsmoothed' and 'smoothed' versions are produced. The unsmoothed versions (the dashed lines on the figure) give the values which should be used and reported, whereas the smoothed versions (smooth lines) provide a useful way of seeing underlying trends and are intended to be used for formal statistical assessments of changes.

    Short-term bounce in numbers of breeding species this year due to better weather

    Year-on-year we report depressing news on further declines in these indicators, and the underlying trends. However, this year we are pleased to report that the unsmoothed trends increased between 2013 and 2014 for every breeding bird indicator. Following poor weather in the 2012, breeding conditions were considerably better for many species in 2013 and this, coupled with a relatively mild 2013/14 winter, appears to have been responsible for a short-term bounce in numbers of many breeding species.

    Indicators are still showing longer-term downwards trends

    Despite the welcome upturns shown between 2013 and 2014, all the indicators are still showing longer-term downward trends. The smoothed lines, designed to reveal underlying trends, are at their lowest-ever level for the farmland, woodlands, wetlands and all species indicators.

    • The farmland bird indicator has fallen by 11% over the last five years and is now down by 54% on its 1970 level.
    • Woodland birds have remained broadly stable in recent years and showed a considerable increase since 2013, but remain down by 20% overall.
    • Water and wetland birds are a growing concern, with the underlying smoothed trend having fallen by 12% in five years. They are now 15% down on their 1975 start point.
    • The underlying smoothed trend shows that the seabird indicator has declined by 9% in five years, although it did show a considerable jump between 2013 and 2014; regardless, it has fallen by 21% since its 1986 start point.
    • Due to massive increases in the 1980s and 90s the wintering waterbird indicator remains nearly double of its starting level, but even that has shown recent declines and has now reached its lowest level for nearly 25 years.

    To find out more read the Wild Bird Populations in the UK report and the Wild Bird Populations in England report.

  • Expedition news from Henderson Island and possibly one of the most remote Wedding HEN parties of them all!

    Here is the latest news from the Henderson Team :

    Expedition to Henderson Island

    The ecology of rats on Henderson Island

    Increasing our knowledge of petrel biology

    Henderson landbirds

    The plant life of Henderson Island

    Plastic in paradise

    The voyage home

    Jennifer's wedding

    The new team

    Hope for the future

    Henderson Island is a 4,600 ha raised coralline atoll located in the South Pacific. Part of the Pitcairn Island, UK Overseas Territory, the island is home to over 50 endemic species. The island sits roughly 35 m above sea level with no human settlement, infrastructure and none of the ‘necessities’ of modern life. Henderson Island is one of the last remaining examples of this type of habitat in the world not yet destroyed by development or other human activity.

    Still, Henderson’s unique biodiversity is currently under threat due to the presence of introduced Pacific rats. Rats are negatively affecting many native species on Henderson Island. Following the failed eradication attempt in 2011, more research is needed to ensure that an operation is indeed feasible before we can begin planning and fundraising. In May of this year, the RSPB mounted a six-month expedition to Henderson Island. Divided into two phases, the first team have now returned home and the second team have just started their work on Henderson.

  • Science expedition to Henderson Island to investigate invasive rats: Part 10

    Guest blog by Dr Steffen Oppel, Senior Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science. You can read part 1part 2part 3part 4, part 5part 6part 7part 8 and part 9 of the Henderson Island science expedition here.

    On 22 May 2015, the RSPB expedition team arrived on Henderson Island (Pitcairn Group, UK Overseas Territory) to better understand the ecology of this remote and rarely visited island. 

    The amazing journeys of Murphy’s Petrels

    Murphy’s Petrels breed on several South Pacific islands, and Henderson supports a small population of ~2000 pairs which routinely fail to raise any offspring (see blogs part 5 and part 6). The species is far more docile than the feisty Henderson Petrel, which is not particularly helpful to fend off rats or crabs, but makes the species very easy to work with.


    Photo of Murphy’s Petrel sitting on a log on Henderson Island

    In July the RSPB team attached small GPS loggers to the tail feathers of breeding birds to track their foraging movements during incubation. Previous work by Thomas Clay, Richard Phillips, and Mike Brooke of the Cambridge University Zoology Department had indicated that these birds undertake very long foraging trips during incubation, and novel technology allowed us to track these movements with greater precision.



    Photo of RSPB Scientists Jennifer Lavers and Alice Forrest attaching a GPS logger to the tail of a Murphy’s Petrel

    All deployed loggers were successfully retrieved, one bird spent 34 days incubating its egg and never left to go foraging at sea, but most other birds undertook foraging trips ranging from 10 days to 4 weeks.

    While the data still need to be analysed in detail, and will be published in due course, the first impression of the foraging trips is nothing short of spectacular: half of the tracked birds undertook enormous journeys throughout the eastern tropical Pacific and travelled >12,000 km in a single foraging trip!

    These foraging trips are longer than comparable trips by albatrosses or other petrels, and Thomas Clay, a PhD student with the British Antarctic Survey, will use these and the earlier tracking data to figure out what resources may compel Murphy’s Petrels to travel such huge distances.

    The Henderson expedition is funded by The Darwin Initiative and David & Lucile Packard Foundation.

    Find out more about our Henderson Island Restoration Programme