Indicator Specification

Abundance and distribution of selected species

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: SEBI 001 , CSI 050
Published 12 Sep 2018 Last modified 08 Aug 2019
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This indicator shows trends in the abundance of common birds and butterflies across their European ranges over time . It is a composite of many species trend indices. A value of 100 is set for each species in the start year. If a species is added to the composite index after the start year, it is scaled to the index value at the year it was added to the indicator.  

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection


  • Policy relevance: this indicator contributes to the assessment of biodiversity conservation policy and land use policy, as well as to overarching factors such as climate change and European policy measures (e.g. the Birds and the Habitats Directives).
  • Biodiversity relevant: birds and butterflies can be excellent barometers of the health of the environment. They occur in many habitats, can reflect changes in other animals and plants, and are sensitive to environmental change.
  • Scientifically sound and methodologically well founded: the methods used are being harmonised (national systems may differ but indices are standardised before being combined), and are peer-reviewed and statistically robust.
  • Progress towards target: this indicator provides a tangible basis for measuring progress towards the biodiversity targets.
  • Broad acceptance and understandability: this indicator reports on birds and butterflies, familiar groups of species that are well known to the public.
  • Routinely collected data: the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring scheme (PECBMS) collates national data in a harmonised way from a European network of expert ornithologists. At present, butterfly monitoring schemes are active in 20 pan-European countries and regionally in two countries (Russia and Ukraine). Each year, new schemes join. 


Scientific references

Indicator definition

This indicator shows trends in the abundance of common birds and butterflies across their European ranges over time. It is a composite of many species trend indices. A value of 100 is set for each species in the start year. If a species is added to the composite index after the start year, it is scaled to the index value at the year it was added to the indicator.



The unit used in an index of relative values with the value for 1990 set to 100.


Policy context and targets

Context description

The EU has taken action on the protection of biodiversity for a considerable number of years, for example, by adopting the Birds Directive 0409/1979 (updated in 2009/147/EC) and the Habitats Directive 0043/1992

In line with the results of the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Nagoya, Japan (October 2010), a new EU biodiversity strategy, Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020, was adopted by the European Commission in May 2011. This provided a framework for the EU to meet its own biodiversity objectives and global commitments as a party to the CBD. The strategy is built around six mutually supportive targets, which address the main drivers of biodiversity loss and aim to reduce the key pressures on nature and ecosystem services in the EU. Each target is further translated into a set of time-bound actions and other accompanying measures. The strategy also highlights the need to enhance contributions from other environmental policies and initiatives including sectoral integration across EU policies such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, water, climate and energy. Target 3A of the strategy seeks to maximise 'areas under agriculture across grasslands, arable land and permanent crops that are covered by biodiversity-related measures under the Common agricultural policy (CAP) so as to ensure the status of species and habitats that depend on, or are affected by agriculture'.

In 2013, the Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) was adopted, which will guide European environment policy until 2020. 

Moreover, this indicator needs to be seen in the context of the CAP, in particular its rural development policy 2014-2020. Relevant policy measures under the rural development policy include agri-environment-climate schemes and payments to farmers in areas with natural constraints or for adapted farming in areas with environmental restrictions, such as Natura 2000 sites.

Relation of the indicator to the focal area

a) Common birds

Each species reacts differently to the various anthropogenic pressures that potentially impact on population size. By monitoring a large enough number of populations of different bird species, different bio-geographical regions and areas subjected to different types and levels of pressure, this indicator has the potential to alert decision makers to the decline in populations due to environmental and geographic factors, as well as their potential drivers.

b) Butterflies

Insects are by far the most species-rich group of animals, representing over 50 % of terrestrial biodiversity. Contrary to most other groups of insects, butterflies are well documented, easy to recognise and popular with the general public. Butterflies use the landscape at a fine scale and react quickly to changes in management, intensification or abandonment. Furthermore, a sustainable butterfly population relies on a network of breeding habitats scattered over the landscape, where most species exist in a metapopulation structure. This makes butterflies especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation. Moreover, many butterflies are highly sensitive to vegetation changes as a result of changes in the temperature and nutrient status of their habitats, and, because data from fine-scale mapping are available in many countries, they have been used in models predicting the impact of climate change on wildlife. Butterflies have been counted in Butterfly Monitoring Schemes since 1976.


EU 2020 Biodiversity Headline Target

Related policy documents

  • EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy
    in the Communication: Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (COM(2011) 244) the European Commission has adopted a new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. There are six main targets, and 20 actions to help Europe reach its goal. The six targets cover: - Full implementation of EU nature legislation to protect biodiversity - Better protection for ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure - More sustainable agriculture and forestry - Better management of fish stocks - Tighter controls on invasive alien species - A bigger EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss

Key policy question

Has the decline in common species in Europe been halted?



Methodology for indicator calculation

a) Common birds

The data for this indicator originate from national monitoring data collected by the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS). PECBMS is a partnership involving the European Bird Census Council, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, BirdLife International and Statistics Netherlands, which aims to deliver policy relevant biodiversity indicators for Europe

Trend information spanning different time periods is derived from annual national breeding bird surveys in 28 European countries (26 EU countries, except Croatia and Malta, plus Norway and Switzerland). Highly skilled volunteer ornithologists carry out counting and data collection. Data are collected nationally on an annual basis during the breeding season by common bird monitoring schemes. National bird monitoring data are gathered using several count methods (e.g. standardised point transects/line transects, territory mapping etc), using a variety of sampling strategies (from free choice of plots to stratified random sampling) and individual plot sizes vary within each country (from 1x1 km or 2x2 km squares or 2.5-degree grid squares to irregular polygons). 

Indicators (multi-species indices) are computed using the MSI-tool (R-script) for calculating Multi-Species Indicators (MSI) and trends in MSIs. The method of calculation is described in Soldaat et al. (2017). Either European, EU or regional species indices including their standard errors are used as source data. 

Country coverage (i.e. reflecting the availability of high-quality monitoring data from annually-operated common bird monitoring schemes employing generic survey methods and producing reliable national trends): Austria (since 1998), Belgium (Brussels since 1992; Flanders since 2007; Wallonia since 1990), Bulgaria (since 2004), Cyprus (since 2006), Czech Republic (since 1981), Denmark (since 1975), Estonia (since 1983), Finland (since 1975), France (since 1989), Germany (since 1989), Greece (since 2007), Hungary (since 1999), Ireland (since 1998), Italy (since 2000), Latvia (since 1995), Lithuania (since 1994), Luxembourg (since 2009), the Netherlands (since 1984), Norway (since 1996), Poland (since 2000), Portugal (since 2004), Romania (since 2006), Slovakia (since 1994), Slovenia (since 2008), Spain (since 1996), Sweden (since 1975), Switzerland (since 1999) and the United Kingdom (since 1966). 

The current population index of common birds was produced for 168 species:

Common farmland birds:
Alauda arvensis, Alectoris rufa, Anthus campestris, Anthus pratensis, Bubulcus ibis, Burhinus oedicnemus, Calandrella brachydactyla, Carduelis cannabina, Ciconia ciconia, Corvus frugilegus, Emberiza cirlus, Emberiza citronella, Emberiza hortulana, Emberiza malanocephala, Falco tinnunculus, Galerida cristata, Galerida theklae, Hirundo rustica, Lanius collurio, Lanius minor, Lanius senator, Limosa limosa, Melanocorypha calandra, Miliaria calandra, Motacilla flava, Oenanthe hispanica, Passer montanus, Perdix perdix, Petronia petronia, Saxicola rubetra, Saxicola torquata, Serinus serinus, Streptopelia turtur, Sturnus unicolor, Sturnus vulgaris, Sylvia communis, Tetrax tetrax, Upupa epops, Vanellus vanellus.

Common forest birds:
Accipiter nisus, Anthus trivialis, Bombycilla garrulous, Bonasa bonasia, Carduelis spinus, Certhia brachydactyla, Certhia familiaris, Coccothraustes coccothraustes, Columba oenas, Cyanopica cyanus, Dendrocopos medius, Dendrocopos minor, Dryocopus martius, Emberiza rustica, Ficedula albicollis, Ficedula hypoleuca, Garrulus glandarius, Nucifraga caryocatactes, Parus ater, Parus cristatus, Parus montanus, Parus palustris, Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Phulloscopus bonelli, Phylloscopus collybita, Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Picus canus, Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Regulus ignicapilla, Regulus regulus, Serinus citrinella, Sitta europaea, Tringa ochropus, Turdus viscivorus.

Other common birds:
Acrocephalus arundinaceus, Acrocephalus palustris, Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, Acrocephalus scirpaceus, Actitis hypoleucus, Aegithalos caudatus, Alcedo atthis, Anas platyrhynchos, Apus apus, Ardea cinerea, Buteo buteo, Carduelis chloris, Carduelis flammea, Cettia cetti, Circus aeruginosus, Cisticola juncidis, Clamator glandarius, Columba palumbus, Corvus corax, Corvus corone, Corvus monedula, Cuculus canorus, Cygnus olor, Delichon urbica, Dendrocopos major, Dendrocopos syriacus, Egretta garzetta, Emberiza cia, Emberiza schoeniclus, Erithacus rubecula, Fringilla coelebs, Fringilla montifringilla, Fulica atra, Gallinago gallinago, Gallinula chloropus, Grus grus, Haematopus ostralegus, Hippolais icterina, Hippolais polyglotta, Hirundo daurica, Hirundo rupestris, Jynx torquilla, Larus ridibundus, Locustella fluviatilis, Locustella naevia, Lullula arborea, Luscinia luscinia, Luscinia megarhynchos, Luscinia svecica svecica, Merops apiaster, Motacilla alba, Motacilla cinerea, Muscicapa striata, Numenius arquata, Numenius phaeopus, Oenanthe cypriaca, Oenanthe oenanthe, Oriolus oriolus, Parus caeruleus, Parus major, Passer domesticus, Phasianus colchicus, Phoenicurus ochruros, Phylloscopus trochilus, Pica pica, Picus viridis, Pluvialis apricaria, Podiceps cristatus, Prunella modularis, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, Streptopylia decaocto, Sylvia atricapilla, Sylvia borin, Sylvia cantillans, Sylvia curruca, Sylvia hortensis, Sylvia melanocephala, Sylvia melanothorax, Sylvia nisoria, Sylvia undata, Tachybaptus ruficollis, Tadorna tadorna, Tetrao tetrix, Tringa erythropus, Tringa glareola, Tringa nebularia, Tringa tetanus, Troglodytes troglodytes, Turdus iliacus, Turdus merula, Turdus philomelos, Turdus pilaris, Turdus torquatus.

More information about species indices and trends is available at: 

Rationale for species selection:

The PECBMS European species classification (farmland, forest and other) has been developed over time as the indicators have been published and refined. The first publication was based on European trends of 47 common bird species, classified by national coordinators of monitoring schemes and other experts who met at the PECBMS workshop in Prague in 2001. For the second publication, based on an enlarged species sample, the classification was improved and was based on a publication by Tucker and Evans (1997), describing habitats and their importance for birds in Europe. Since 2007, when the third set of European indices and indicators was published, data on over 150 species have been used and the species classification has been based on assessments within bio-geographical regions in Europe. (See the PECBMS website for further details on the historic classification).

b) Butterflies

The field method is based on the British Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (Pollard and Yates, 1993), in use in the United Kingdom since 1976. Counts are made on a 5 m or 10 m wide line transect with homogeneous vegetation and vegetation structure. From March/April to September/October, all butterflies found 2.5 m to the left and right of the recorder and 5 m in front and above it should be counted under standardised weather conditions. The frequency varies from weekly to three or four visits during the season. Most of the sites are recorded by skilled volunteers. All recorders have a good knowledge of the butterfly fauna at their transect and their results are checked by butterfly experts. Van Swaay et al. (2008) showed that butterfly survey data can be used to generate biodiversity quality indices for sites such that trends in biodiversity quality can be deduced. 

Indicators (multi-species indices) are computed using the MSI-tool (R-script) for calculating Multi-Species Indicators (MSI) and trends in MSIs. The method of calculation is described in Soldaat et al. (2017). Either European, EU or regional species indices including their standard errors are used as source data. 

List of species

Widespread species: Ochlodes sylvanus, Anthocharis cardamines, Lycaena phlaeas, Polyommatus icarus, Lasiommata megera, Coenonympha pamphilus and Maniola jurtina.

Specialist species: Erynnis tages, Thymelicus acteon, Spialia sertorius, Cupido minimus, Phengaris arion, Phengaris nausithous, Polyommatus bellargus, Cyaniris semiargus, Polyommatus coridon and Euphydryas aurinia.

Methodology for gap filling

A Monte Carlo method is used to account for sampling error and when not all yearly index numbers of all species are available. The MSI-tool (R-script) is used to calculatef Multi-Species Indicators (MSI) and trends in MSIs.

Methodology references

  • a. common birds Gregory, R.D., van Strien, A. (2010).  Wild Bird Indicators: Using Composite Population Trends of Birds as Measures of Environmental Health. Ornithological Science, 9 (1), 3-22.   Donald, P. F., Sanderson, F. J., Burfield, I. J., van Bommel, F. P. J. (2006). Further evidence of continent-wide impacts of agricultural intensification on European farmland birds, 1990-2000. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 116  189-196.   Gregory, R. D., van Strien, A., Vorisek, P., Meyling, A. W. G., Noble, D. G., Foppen, R. P. B. and Gibbons, D. W. (2005) Developing indicators for European birds. Phil.Trans. R. Soc. B. 360, 269-288.   BirdLife International (2004). Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, United Kingdom: BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series No. 12).
  • b. butterflies Van Swaay, C. A. M., Nowicki, P., Settele, J., van Strien, A.J. (2008) Butterfly monitoring in Europe: methods, applications and perspectives, Biodivers Conserv DOI 10.1007/s10531-008-9491-4 Thomas, J. A. (2005) Monitoring change in the abundance and distribution of insects using butterflies and other indicator groups. Phil. Trans. Soc. B. 360, 339-357.
  • MSI-tool Tool (R-script) for calculating van Multi-Species Indicators (MSI) and trends in MSIs.
  • A Monte Carlo method to account for sampling error in multi-species indicators Soldaat, L.L., Pannekoek, J., Verweij, R.J.T., van Turnhout, C.A.M., van Strien, A.J. (2017). Ecological Indicators, 81, 340-347.
  • The European Grassland Butterfly Indicator: 1990–2011 EEA Technical report No 11/2013

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures



Methodology uncertainty

The indicator is accompanied by measures of uncertainty, including smoothed trends and confidence intervals.

Data sets uncertainty

Data on population development of a species are assessed by calculating yearly indices and standard errors using the TRIM software (Pannekoek and Van Strien, 2005,

Rationale uncertainty


a. common birds

  • Temporal coverage: until the early 1990s, rather few European countries had common bird monitoring schemes in place, which restricts how far back in time representative trends can be calculated.
  • No coherent and structured data breakdown at country level is currently available

b. butterflies

  • Limited geographical coverage.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata


Indicator code
SEBI 001
CSI 050
Version id: 3

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year


DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
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