The 33rd annual Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) report which includes counts from 2013/14 is now available [WeBS report]. WeBS is the principal scheme for monitoring the populations of the UK’s wintering waterbirds, indicating the status of waterbird populations and the health of wetlands.
The UK’s importance as a waterbird wintering area comes from its geographic location as the most northerly temperate area with generally mild, maritime, winters close to arctic breeding areas. The UK’s many major estuaries are of critical importance as a food resource for these species during winter.
Overall the report shows that UK wintering waterbird populations have declined during a run of milder winters in the last decade. However in periods of extreme cold, 2008/9, 2009/10 and 2010/11, the UK acted as a refuge for waterbirds from continental Europe as birds moved to the nearest appropriate over-wintering site. The key UK sites – protected under various legislative measures – play a critical role in supporting waterbird populations under changing environmental conditions, and operate as a functional ecological network at national and international scales. The report illustrates an instance of this with recent research on use of Special Protection Areas by Smew (a small diving duck), highlighting the importance of site networks in maintaining overall species populations as its distribution within Europe changes in response to climate change. David Stroud, JNCC’s Senior Ornithologist contributed to the paper describing this research.
WeBS collaborates with other national monitoring schemes throughout Europe through the International Waterbird Census to provide a wider context and encourage analyses. Such data and information helps the UK fulfil its international obligations for the conservation of waterbirds and their habitats. The 2013/14 report includes a summary of such work in relation to Mallard distribution in Northern Europe.
JNCC is a partner in the WeBS Scheme with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and in association with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). JNCC’s input is on behalf of Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside (CNCC) in Northern Ireland, Natural Resource Wales (NRW), Natural England, and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and enables it to advise government and the devolved administrations. The survey is undertaken by several thousand volunteers throughout the UK, and is co-ordinated by BTO on behalf of the Partnership.
 See page 14 of the report and Pavón-Jordán, D. et al. 2015. Climate-driven changes in winterabundance of a migratory waterbird in relation to EU protected areas. Diversityand Distributions doi:10.1111/ddi.12300
 See page 22 of the report