Revising the British Red Data List for birds: the biological basis of U.K. conservation priorities



The list of British Red Data birds (Batten et al. 1990) includes 117 species, 109 of which qualified on one or more quantitative criteria referring to rarity, localized distribution, population decline and international importance. A wealth of data on bird population levels and trends in the United Kingdom and Europe has recently become available, allowing refinement and improvement of the criteria for qualification. Here we propose that in assigning priorities for conservation action in the U.K. (Britain and Northern Ireland), three biological axes need to be considered: national threat (measured as rarity, localized distribution and population decline in the U.K.), international importance (the proportion of the European population in the U.K.) and international threat (European/global conservation status). Only the first two of these axes were considered by Batten et al. (1990). Each of these axes has been sub-divided into high, medium and low categories using quantitative thresholds, and from this we produce a national ‘conservation cube’ (three axes, each with three categories and thus 27 cells). Data permitting, every species in the U.K. can be allocated to one of these cells. We suggest that species high on either (or both) of the national or international threat axes be considered as species of high conservation priority (the red list) and that among the remainder those that rank at least medium on one of the axes be considered as of medium conservation priority (the amber list). All other species are of low conservation priority (the green list). We suggest that this three-axis model could be applicable to other taxa and countries.