Birds are sensitive to environmental pressures and their populations can reflect changes in the health of the environment. Long-term trends show that between 1990 and 2021, the index of 168 common birds decreased by 12% in the EU. The decline was much stronger in common farmland birds, at 36%, while the common forest bird index decreased by 5%. At present, it seems unlikely that the decline in populations of common birds can be reversed by 2030. To ensure the recovery of common birds, Member States need to significantly increase the implementation of existing policies and put new appropriate conservation and restoration objectives and measures in place.

Figure 1. Common bird index in the EU, 1990-2021

Common bird index in the EU, 1990-2021

The status of birds has been the subject of long-term monitoring in Europe, much of it via voluntary effort, and is a good example of how the power of citizen science can be released through effective targeting . Birds are sensitive to environmental pressures and their population numbers can reflect changes in ecosystems and other animal and plant populations. Therefore, trends in bird populations can serve as an indicator of the health of the environment and can help measure progress towards the EU’s aim to put biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030 .

Long-term population trends of all common birds in the 26 EU Member States with monitoring schemes reveal significant population declines. Between 1990 and 2021, the common bird index declined by 12%, while the common forest bird index decreased by 5%. The decline in common farmland birds was much more pronounced, at 36%. Although this indicator uses 1990 as a baseline, significant decreases had occurred before this date .

These trends demonstrate a major decline in biodiversity in Europe, caused by anthropogenic pressures . Agricultural intensification is the main pressure for most bird population declines , in particular pesticides and fertiliser use , not only for farmland species but for also for many other species whose diet relies on invertebrates during the breeding season . Other factors that have adverse effects on the recovery of populations include land use change and associated habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation , intensive forest management, climate change and increasing competition for land for production of renewable energy and biofuels.

It is difficult to forecast how soon biodiversity, as illustrated by the abundance of bird populations, can recover, as it is influenced by a complex combination of socio-economic drivers, environmental factors and policy measures. Measures set out in the Birds and Habitats Directives have helped protect target bird species and their habitats , however, the overall decline of bird populations in the EU is mainly driven by large declines in a number of common species . The proposal for an EU regulation on nature restoration paves the way for a broad range of ecosystems to be restored and maintained by 2050, with measurable results by 2030 and 2040. In particular, the proposal includes binding targets and obligations to reverse the declines of common farmland and forest birds by 2030, which will require Member States to put appropriate restoration measures in place.

Nevertheless, the past trend indicates a steady decline in the population of common birds, which seems unlikely to be reversed by 2030. This is because the type of measures under the EU nature restoration regulation and the timing of their implementation are still unclear, as is the time needed for species’ response to conservation and restoration actions. In addition, it is crucial that more effective and ambitious measures to halt biodiversity loss are included in other policies, such as the EU common agricultural policy (CAP)and that CAP Strategic Plans support the implementation and effectiveness of the current and upcoming EU biodiversity and nature legislation.