A new study by BirdWatch Ireland, published in the latest issue of its annual scientific journal, Irish Birds, has found that the number of waterbirds wintering in Ireland has declined by 15% over the past five years. More alarming is the comparison over a longer time period, which shows that our wintering waterbirds have declined by almost 500,000 individuals (40%) since the mid-1990’s, a truly shocking finding.
Ireland is an important wintering area for migratory waterbirds (ducks, geese, swans and wading birds, amongst others) that breed at Arctic latitudes and migrate southwards to spend the winter on our estuaries, coastal bays, rivers and lakes. These waterbirds are monitored through the Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS), which is funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) (Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) and coordinated by BirdWatch Ireland. Each winter, hundreds of Irish birdwatchers across the country volunteer to count waterbirds in their local areas, together with staff of NPWS and BirdWatch Ireland. The data collected enable regular assessment of the numbers and trends of our wintering waterbirds. In the mid-1990’s, when the survey began, there were over 1.2 million of these birds at wetlands around Ireland, but analysis of data from recent years found only 760,000 – a shocking decline of 40%.
Wading bird species, including Knot, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Redshank, have been the worst hit, suffering a combined loss of over 100,000 individuals (19%) over the past five years. Wildfowl, including 14 species of duck, 3 species of swan and 4 species of geese, declined by 28,000 individuals (9%). In total, 27 species declined by over 10% over the course of just 5 years, with only seven species managing to increase by more than 10%.