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What are 'Red-listed' species?

Established in 1964, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species.

The Red List process has become a massive enterprise involving the IUCN Global Species Program staff, partner organisations and experts in the IUCN Species Survival Commission and partner networks. The Red List is now an independent analysis of the health of the world’s biodiversity and a powerful tool to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation and policy change. It provides information about range, population size, habitat and ecology, use and/or trade, threats, and conservation actions that will help inform necessary conservation decisions.

In Great Britain, Red-listing is overseen by an inter-agency working group co-ordinated by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) with members from Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. Data comes from charities and organisations including the BTO and RSPB.

The first UK Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC) report was published in 1996. Roughly every six years, experts from different nature and conservation organisations get together to update the report. Each species is assessed and put on the Green List, Amber List or Red List in ascending order of concern. Birds of Conservation Concern 5 – the most recent assessment of the status of all the UK’s 245 regularly occurring bird species – was published on 1st December 2021.

The Red List of British birds published in 1996 had only 36 species. In the 2021 review it grew to 70, and now includes once familiar and widespread birds like House Sparrow and Starling which have suffered huge declines.

Eleven species were Red-listed for the first time in 2021, six due to worsening declines in breeding populations (Greenfinch, Swift, House Martin, Ptarmigan, Purple Sandpiper and Montagu’s Harrier), four due to worsening declines in non-breeding wintering populations (Bewick’s  Swan, Goldeneye, Smew and Dunlin) and one (Leach’s Storm-petrel) because it is assessed according to IUCN criteria as Globally Vulnerable.

Red-listing is a measure of conservation status, not a measure of legal protection. Remarkably five  bird species on the UK Red List for Birds can still be legally shot! Protect the Wild wants to see an immediate ban on the shooting of all Red-listed species.