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Seven quantitative criteria were used to assess the population status of each species and place it onto the red, amber or green list. These criteria are listed below. The review excluded species that are not native to the UK and those that occur irregularly as vagrants or scarce migrants.

  • Red list species are those that are Globally Threatened according to IUCN criteria; those whose population or range has declined rapidly in recent years; and those that have declined historically and not shown a substantial recent recovery.
  • Amber list species are those with an unfavourable conservation status in Europe, those whose population or range has declined moderately in recent years; those whose population has declined historically but made a substantial recent recovery; rare breeders; and those with internationally important or localised populations.
  • Species that fulfil none of the criteria are green-listed.



The 1996 assessments helped to focus attention on a suite of widespread but rapidly declining birds of farmed land, such as the turtle dove, the skylark and the corn bunting. It is generally accepted that these species have declined because of agricultural intensification, and in the last few years a range of schemes have been introduced to help them. All of the birds of farmed land that were on the red list in the earlier assessments are still there. In addition, another farmland bird, the yellowhammer, has joined them. Many red list species remain relatively common in the countryside despite substantial declines.


Birds from two new groups appear on the red list: lowland woodland birds and urban birds. The red-listed woodland birds are the lesser spotted woodpecker, the marsh tit and the willow tit, which have declined by 73%, 50% and 80% respectively over the last 25 years. A number of other woodland species have entered the amber list. The urban species new to the red list are, remarkably, the house sparrow and the starling, both of which were formerly ubiquitous but have declined by more than 60%. In contrast to the situation with farmland birds, we do not know why these woodland and urban species have declined, and urgently need to find out. As with farmland birds, some of these species remain quite common despite severe declines.


 Several species characteristic of Scotland, Wales or northern England, such as the capercaillie and the black grouse, remain on the red list because of continuing steep declines. Others, such as the corncrake and the white-tailed eagle, are still red-listed although their numbers are increasing due to successful conservation action. One upland bird, the ring ouzel, is new to the red list.


Although the overall number of species on the red list has increased since the last assessment (from 36 to 40), five species have moved from red to amber. The populations of the red kite, marsh harrier, osprey, merlin and Dartford warbler have more than doubled in the last 25 years, even though they had declined substantially previously. Much of the recent increase in these species is due to the success of targeted conservation action.Photograph © Mike Weston