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28 November, 2019

Statistical News Release: Index of Abundance for Scottish Terrestrial Breeding Birds, 1994 to 2018

An Official Statistics Publication for Scotland

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has today released the latest figures tracking the abundance of Scotland’s terrestrial breeding birds.

Over the long term (1994-2018), the all-species (smoothed) index increased steadily up to the mid-2000s, subsequently declining to fluctuate between 12% and 17% above the 1994 index value since 2010. It is currently 12% higher than in 1994 (using the smoothed indices – see note 2).

Over the short term (2017-2018), using the unsmoothed indices, the all-species index decreased by 7% and the woodland bird index decreased by 12%. The decline since 2017 probably has multiple causes but there is evidence that the harsh winter of 2017-18 was a factor. The farmland bird and upland bird indices were stable.

Analysis of habitat specific trends did show some change over the long term: woodland birds increased by 58%; farmland bird index showed a steady increase up to the late-2000s, peaking at 25% above the 1994 value and is currently 12% higher than in 1994. Upland birds decreased by 15% over the same period. There are numerous explanations for the long-term trends observed. These differ between species and include the shifting or extending of their range northwards (e.g. cuckoo and blackcap), land use changes (e.g. curlew) or climate change (e.g. golden plover).


Contact information

SNH Media

Notes to editors

1. The full statistical publication can be accessed at:

2. Smoothed indices are a statistical way of removing the year to year fluctuations that naturally appear, for example because of weather conditions or sampling variations, to allow the underlying trend to be more easily seen.

3. The data used in the report primarily come from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Breeding Bird Survey (BBS):

4. Official statistics are produced by professionally independent statistical staff in accordance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

Scottish Natural Heritage is Scotland's nature agency. We work to improve our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. We work to ensure that all nature in Scotland - our key habitats and landscapes, all our green space and our native species - is maintained, enhanced and brings us benefits. It is the job of all of us to achieve a balance in the sensitive management of our natural world in order to maintain and enhance biodiversity. For more information, visit our website at or follow us on Twitter at

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