A new report from the Irish Wetland Bird Survey has found that the numbers of wintering waterbirds in Ireland are estimated to have declined by 15% in recent years. The report also details the many factors linked to these population declines, including climate change.
The majority of waterbird species assessed by the survey are showing significant declines over the last five years, with some species showing continued population declines in the long term. Populations of diving ducks such as Goldeneye, Pochard and Scaup have declined by over 50% in the last 22 years. Other species are showing increased populations. Whooper Swan populations, for example, have increased by almost 40% in the last 24 years, and Black-tailed Godwits have increased by over 77%.
Dr Seán Kelly of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, commented: “Given the importance of Ireland’s wetlands for waterbirds nationally and internationally, the reported population declines are real cause for concern. While the noted declines in some species are likely related to distributional shifts as a result of climate change, others are likely related to the management and use of wetlands here in Ireland. Thankfully, there are some positives to be drawn, with species such as Whooper Swan, which migrate here from Iceland, showing positive trends, suggesting that conservation measures in key areas are benefitting some species.
“This winter was the 25th year of the Irish Wetland Bird Survey, which started back in the winter of 1994-1995. Over these 25 years, over 900 volunteer counters and staff from both the National Parks and Wildlife Service and BirdWatch Ireland have contributed tens of thousands of hours to this survey. These counters are integral to the Irish Wetland Bird Survey and without them we could not monitor our waterbirds or their wetlands so comprehensively.”
The report also reviews the current pressures that have likely contributed to the changes in wintering waterbird populations, as well as the future threats these populations will likely face. This includes climate change, which is linked to significant distributional shifts in European populations.
The Irish Wetland Bird Survey is the principal tool used in the monitoring of wintering waterbirds in Ireland and the conservation management of the wetland sites upon which they rely. The results from this monitoring programme inform national and local decision making processes – for example, as well as being used in international collaborations with organisations such as Wetlands International to monitor species and develop policy at the global (or flyway) scale. Results from this survey work have also contributed to international scientific publications assessing the impacts of climate change on distributional changes in bird populations across Europe.