The population of grouse and kestrels is declining due to the impact of the climate crisis on Scottish wildlife.

Estimated read time 3 min read

A recent study has revealed that certain well-known bird species in Scotland, such as grouse and kestrels, are experiencing a decrease in numbers due to the effects of climate change.

A recent report from NatureScot analyzed the population trends of Scotland’s terrestrial breeding birds from 1994 to 2022. The results revealed notable shifts in both the quantity and types of birds residing in the country’s urban, woodland, upland, and farmland environments, largely attributed to the effects of a warming and wetter climate.

Certain species have experienced a rise in their numbers as a result of hotter summers, luring in those that typically would not migrate to Scotland. These include the great spotted woodpecker, whose population has grown by over 500%, as well as bullfinches and wrens, which have both seen an increase of more than 50%.

According to NatureScot, certain bird species are finding Scotland to be a safe haven from climate change, as the rising temperatures are more suitable for species accustomed to warmer climates.

One such bird is the willow warbler, which historically has bred in Europe and migrated to southern Africa in winter, but which has increased its population in Scotland by more than 50% since 1994.

In Scotland’s farmland, there has been a doubling of the population of certain species, such as goldfinches and magpies, since 1994.

A great spotted woodpecker, wings back, in flightView image in fullscreen

However, the populations of some species have consistently decreased since the 1990s. Black grouse, kestrels, greenfinches, and lapwings have all experienced a decline of over 50% due to various factors, such as higher levels of summer rainfall and the growth of forests, as well as changes in land management methods.

The populations of Oystercatchers, rooks, skylarks, and capercaillie have all decreased in recent years. The capercaillie, a type of large woodland grouse, has been protected in Scotland but has been on the verge of extinction for two decades. Scientists believe that its decline may be due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns. Out of the 66 species studied, only four have maintained stable numbers in the past 28 years.

According to Simon Foster, an analyst at NatureScot who specializes in trends and indicators, the climate is a significant factor in driving changes for Scotland’s breeding bird population.

Foster reported that this analysis predicts the impact of present-day weather on bird populations in the future.

“As severe weather events like floods and heatwaves become increasingly common, it is crucial that our efforts to enhance Scotland’s nature and habitats are informed by current scientific research to achieve optimal outcomes.”

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According to Foster, in order to reverse and restore the declines, efforts such as increasing the variety of forests, restoring peatlands, and farmers developing new habitats, need to be intensified in the upcoming years.

Terrestrial breeding birds are understood to be good indicators of overall biodiversity because they respond quickly to changes in habitat. Their overall numbers declined steeply between 2021 and 2022 in Scotland despite warm temperatures, a change which researchers suggest may be linked to the country experiencing its driest summer in 25 years.

Catherine Gee, the deputy chief executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, a non-profit organization focused on the environment, stated that Scotland’s shifting climate is noticeably affecting the natural world. This includes the country’s indigenous birds, insects, and mammals, as well as the plants and trees that we tend to overlook.

She stated that it is crucial for us to motivate individuals to engage with nature and prioritize biodiversity in their daily lives, especially in urban settings and underprivileged communities.


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