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27 September, 2018

Scotland’s wintering wading birds could be losers in climate change

Scotland’s wintering wading birds could be losers in climate change: Redshank

Climate change could be a factor in the decline of Scotland’s wading birds, including redshank, golden plover and lapwing, according to new figures published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) today (Thursday).

The Abundance of Wintering Waterbirds report shows that since counts began in the winter of 1975/76:

  • Wader numbers (14 species) have declined since 1996/97 and in 2015/16 are 21% lower than in 1975/76, the lowest levels on record.
  • Goose numbers, including Barnacle geese have increased to 287%
  • 16 species of ducks and swans numbers increased to 14%.

Simon Foster, SNH’s Trends & Indicator Analyst, said:

“Scotland is on the migration route known as the East Atlantic Flyway and many wildfowl and wader species breed in the Arctic and fly here to winter at one of 50 Scottish sites of international importance.

“While climate change and food availability are likely causes for the decline, there are some species, where other factors may be at play. More research is needed to better understand these, and develop ways to help improve numbers of waders, including purple sandpipers and turnstone. Changes in the Arctic need to be better understood especially for long distance migratory waders as well as what is happening on their wintering areas. We are working together with international researchers and volunteers to help our wintering waders.

“Geese, particularly barnacle geese, have shown the greatest increases – with legal protection and changes to agriculture helping to boost numbers. However, barnacle geese numbers are now reaching levels that can cause challenges for some crop growers, and we are working with farmers to help address understandable concerns on how to manage this conflict.”

SNH is working to help our wintering waders through several projects, such as Working for Waders – which will help support breeding waders in Scotland through a variety of measures such as improving breeding habitats.

The Abundance of Wintering Waterbirds is one of several Biodiversity Indicators that SNH regularly publishes, designed to monitor changes in Scotland’s nature and landscapes. They help SNH to better understand trends with our natural heritage, so they can develop appropriate ways to protect it, and they provide evidence of progress towards targets in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.


Note to editors

Wintering waterbird populations are monitored mainly through the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). The results are used to provide population estimates, determine trends in numbers and distribution, and identify important sites for waterbirds. Since 1975, trends in 41 species of waterbirds (used here to include wildfowl, waders, cormorant, grebes and coot) occurring in Scotland have been monitored. 

The Abundance of Wintering Waterbirds Biodiversity Indicator is available here on

Contact information

Dominic Shann
Job Title
Media Relations Officer
01463 725157
Scottish Natural Heritage is the government's adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Our role is to help people understand, value and enjoy Scotland's nature now and in the future. For more information, visit our website at or follow us on Twitter at

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Lapwing  - (C) SNH/Lorne Gill: Available for one-off use

Lapwing - (C) SNH/Lorne Gill

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