Large-scale habitat use of some declining British birds



1. Large-scale habitat use of eight species of breeding birds was considered using data collected across Britain. The species were skylark Alauda arvensis (L.), dunnock Prunella modularis (L.), blackbird Turdus merula (L.), song thrush Turdus philomelos (L.), starling Sturnus vulgaris (L.), linnet Carduelis cannabina (L.), bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula (L.) and reed bunting Emberiza schoeniclus (L.). All are linked by roughly synchronous population declines over the last 25 years in southern Britain (and mostly in farmland landscapes). Discussion is limited to the conservation status of these species.

2. Breeding densities were estimated for broad habitat types and these were used to estimate population sizes within habitat types. Confidence limits on the estimates were derived using a bootstrap procedure.

3. For most species considered, farmland holds a high proportion of their population (in excess of 50% for four species), reflecting the predominance of this land use across Britain. This suggests that sympathetic changes in farming practices are likely to provide the best mechanism for improving the status of these species.

4. Substantial proportions of particular species occur outside farmland, but different species occur in different habitats. A considerable proportion of skylarks occur on upland moor, bullfinches in wooded habitats, and reed buntings in riparian habitats. Conservation of this group of species thus requires appropriate management of the wider countryside, including their main habitats.

5. Habitats associated with human habitation hold > 20% of the British populations of blackbird, song thrush and starling, and considerable numbers of other species. The management of parks, gardens and other ‘green space’ may have an important impact on their populations and should not be neglected by conservationists.