WADERS FACING DECLINE (news comment)

Plover, oysercatchers and redshanks, who overwinter on UK estuaries, have suffered significant populations drops over ten years.

Climate change is being blamed as hundreds of thousands of wading birds converging on Britain and Ireland could be under threat.

Conservationists say collaborative international research is imperative. Examinations of the traditional sites are also required to determine if there are site-specific issues.Ringed plovers have suffered a decline of 39% in 10 years in over-wintering birds and those breeding in the UK. Redshank have fallen by 26% and Dunlin by 23%.Curlew have fallen by 17% and oystercatchers by 15% in the 10 years to June 2012. Knot have dropped by 7% and the bar-tailed godwit by 10%. Grey plover are down by 21%, according to the data collected by thousands of volunteers.

“It is hard to get a handle on exactly what is going on,” said Chas Holt of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). “When you see declines like this, it could be one of two or three main reasons.

“The overall population of the species as a whole could be in decline. These birds are breeding in the Arctic then wintering much further south in a flyway that runs right from north-west Europe down into Africa. So they are wintering over a large area. So, is the whole population in decline? Are they producing more young but is the survival rate lower? Or are they just slightly shifting distribution?”

Such consistent declines, he said, “mean we certainly have to take stock and understand what is going on”. Research by Wetland International has shown winter populations of some of the species have recently shifted away from the UK to Dutch and German coasts, possibly in response to milder winters. Another possibility is fewer young waders being successfully reared in the Arctic, which is experiencing rapid warming.

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