More evidence of major global extinctions

Six very large data sets of plants, birds and butterflies collected over the past 20 to 40 years in Britain have been used to compare the fate of the three groups. The bird information, summarised in The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland and The New Atlas of Breeding Birds of Britain and Ireland covers the periods 1968-1971 and 1988-1991 respectively (Note 3). Comprehensive data on all 201 native breeding bird species in Britain and Ireland were available for analysis, showing that the extent of the distribution of 56% of native bird species had decreased in the twenty-year period. This compares to 71% decline in butterfly species (over about 20 years) and 28% of plant species (over about 40 years). The fact that these losses are found in butterflies and plants, as well as birds, shows how all-embracing have been the impacts of human activities on wildlife.

Reflecting upon these figures, Jeremy Greenwood of the BTO said: "We have excellent information about the changes in distribution and numbers of birds in Britain and Ireland, and the information globally is better than for any other group of animals or plants. There has been a concern that information for birds might not be representative. This analysis shows that the extinction rates of birds do not over-estimate the seriousness of the global extinction crisis."

"As with so much of our knowledge of Britain's birds, this study could not have been undertaken without the survey work carried out by thousands of volunteer birdwatchers. It is on their efforts that so much conservation action continues to rest." "Sadly, many of the birdwatchers who contributed to the first Breeding Atlas, which covered the period 1968 to 1972, are no longer with us. It is wonderful that their records can still be used to show that birds are good indicators of global extinction rates. The BTO needs to recruit new volunteers to monitor bird numbers and uphold their legacy."


Contact: Graham Appleton
British Trust for Ornithology

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