A recent report from NatureScot underscores the detrimental impact of climate change on Scotland’s avian populations, with some of the nation’s most iconic bird species facing decline.

Conducted between 1994 and 2022, the study meticulously documented changes in the populations of Scotland’s terrestrial breeding birds across diverse habitats, including urban areas, woodlands, uplands, and farmlands. The findings reveal a notable shift in both numbers and species composition, largely attributable to the hotter and wetter conditions associated with the climate crisis.

While certain species have thrived amid warmer summers, attracting newcomers unaccustomed to Scotland’s traditional climate, others have struggled to adapt. The great spotted woodpecker, bullfinches, and wrens, for instance, have witnessed significant population surges, with the woodpecker’s numbers skyrocketing by over 500%.

Conversely, species like black grouse, kestrels, greenfinches, and lapwings have experienced declines exceeding 50%, attributed to factors such as increased summer rainfall and alterations in land management practices.

Remarkably, Scotland is emerging as a “climate refuge” for some species, as its temperatures inch closer to the preferences of those accustomed to warmer environments. The willow warbler, historically breeding in Europe and wintering in southern Africa, has seen its Scottish population surge by over 50% since 1994.

Despite these fluctuations, the report underscores the urgency of bolstering conservation efforts. Initiatives like woodland diversification, peatland restoration, and habitat creation by farmers are deemed essential to reversing these declines.

Terrestrial breeding birds serve as vital indicators of overall biodiversity, given their rapid response to habitat changes. Yet, despite warm temperatures, Scotland experienced a sharp decline in bird numbers between 2021 and 2022, coinciding with the country’s driest summer in 25 years. Researchers posit that this decline may be linked to the severe weather event.

Moreover, several species, including oystercatchers, rooks, skylarks, and the capercaillie—a large woodland grouse—have faced prolonged declines, with the capercaillie teetering on the brink of extinction for nearly two decades. Changing temperatures and rainfall patterns are believed to contribute to its plight.

Simon Foster, NatureScot trends and indicators analyst, said climate was “one of the key drivers of change for Scotland’s breeding birds”.

“This report shows how our weather today will affect bird populations in future years,” Foster said.

“With extreme weather such as flooding and heat becoming more prevalent, we must ensure that improving Scotland’s nature and habitats uses the latest science to help deliver the best results.”

In light of these findings, NatureScot emphasises the need for concerted action to mitigate the impacts of climate change on Scotland’s avian biodiversity. As environmental pressures intensify, collaborative efforts are essential to safeguarding these iconic species and restoring ecological balance in Scotland’s diverse habitats.

Catherine Gee, the deputy chief executive of environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful, said Scotland’s changing climate was having a clear impact on nature, “from our native birds, insects and mammals to the plants and trees we often take for granted”.

“There is a real need for us to inspire people to connect with nature and to make biodiversity a central part of their lives – particularly in urban areas and less affluent communities,” she said.



At Natural World Fund, we are passionate about stopping the decline in our wildlife.

The decline in our wildlife is shocking and frightening. Without much more support, many of the animals we know and love will continue in their decline towards extinction.

When you help to restore a patch of degraded land through rewilding to forests, meadows, or wetlands, you have a massive impact on the biodiversity at a local level. You give animals a home and food that they otherwise would not have had, and it has a positive snowball effect on the food chain.

We are convinced that this is much better for the UK than growing lots of fast-growing coniferous trees, solely to remove carbon, that don’t actually help our animals to thrive.

This is why we stand for restoring nature in the UK through responsible rewilding. For us, it is the right thing to do. Let’s do what’s right for nature!

Donate today at and join in the solution!

Leave A Comment