We have done a decent job at rescuing the rarest species. But we are now faced with much bigger challenges, from the ecological degradation of our farmland to climate change. These problems require a much broader and deeper response.
A new assessment of European birds has revealed that nearly one fifth of species are at risk of extinction across the European Union.
Of the 82 'at risk' species, 11 are 'critically endangered; 16 Endangered and 55 Vulnerable. The greatest threats to their survival are habitat loss, climate change and increasingly intensive farming.
This list of threatened species in the UK includes 37 birds of the 246 species that regularly occur, including lapwing, puffin and curlew. The Balearic shearwater, a regular seabird visitor from the Mediterranean to UK shores, is listed as 'critically endangered' - the highest category of threat.
Other species such as the black-tailed godwit, eider, Arctic skua and kittiwake are listed as 'endangered', the second highest category of threat.
The findings come in the newly published European Red List of Birds, prepared over three years using IUCN's methodology by a consortium led by BirdLife International and financed by the European Commission.
"These red list assessments provide another red warning that nature across Europe is in trouble", said Martin Harper, the RSPB's Conservation Director. "It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago that birds like lapwing and curlew would be threatened species in Europe - the status of many species is deteriorating across Europe."
Notable successes amid the gloom
Over Europe as a whole, birds were faring better, with 13% at risk - 67 of the 533 species. Among the ten 'critically endangered' are the Sociable lapwing, Yellow-breasted bunting, and Slender-billed curlew. The study also found that 18 species are 'endangered' and an additional 39 'vulnerable'.
There have also been some improvements: 20 species previously considered regionally threatened and are now classified as 'least concern in Europe'. These include the Dalmatian pelican, Ferruginous duck, Stone-curlew, Black kite, Lesser kestrel, Black-throated diver and Great bustard.
Another 25 species are still threatened in Europe, but now have a lower extinction risk than a decade ago, and have seen their threat level downlisted. For example, Zino's petrel and Azores bullfinch, both previously considered to be 'critically endangered', are now merely 'endangered'.
The Azores Bullfinch was driven to the edge of extinction on Sao Miguel, the only island where it occurs, mainly by the impact of invasive alien vegetation that had overrun its native forests. Habitat restoration spearheaded by BirdLife Partner SPEA has brought the species back, allowing it to be downlisted from 'critically endangered' to 'endangered', with the population bouncing back from 40 to around 400 pairs.
Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Policy, said: "These reports contain some worrying statistics - but they also show the value of well-targeted actions to protect the biodiversity we depend on both economically and socially through the services they provide.
"Our task is to find ways of building on those successes, and spreading them to other areas. They are also a valuable input to our on-going Fitness Check - Europe needs nature legislation that is fit for purpose."
Ivan Ramirez, head of conservation at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, said: "It is inspiring to see that many species targeted by conservation efforts, and supported by key tools such as the Birds Directive and the LIFE programme, are recovering. Yet it is shocking to see many species that used to be common and are now listed as threatened."
Crisis demands a 'deeper and broader response'
The conservation status of some species that were identified as being in trouble a decade ago haven't improved, for example the Egyptian vulture, Aquatic warbler, Greater spotted eagle and Little bustard.
Of these the Egyptian Vulture ('vulnerable') is endangered by poisoning, both in the Mediterranean breeding grounds and on its African wintering grounds. It also falls victim to electrocution on powerlines, shooting and loss of extensive agriculture habitat.
The Greater Spotted Eagle ('critically endangered in the EU'), which nests in mature riverine forests in Eastern Europe, is declining owing to extensive habitat loss and persistent persecution.
Christina Ieronymidou, the European Species Programme Officer at BirdLife, said: "The European Red List tells us that we have done a decent job at rescuing the rarest species by protecting their last strongholds and taking actions such as eradication of invasive species and insulation of killer powerlines.
"But we are now faced with much bigger challenges, from the ecological degradation of our farmland to climate change. These problems require a much broader and deeper response."
Such is the case, for example, of the 'critically endangered' Balearic shearwater , a seabird with a tiny breeding range on Spain's Balearic Islands. Its small population of 3,193 breeding pairs is undergoing an rapid population decline owing to predation at breeding colonies by introduced mammals and at-sea mortality as a result of fisheries by-catch.
Also 'endangered' from fishing are the Atlantic puffin and Northern fulmar, iconic birds of the North Atlantic seabird colonies, whose populations are plummeting under the combined blows of overfishing and climate change.
Intensive agriculture is the main threat for the 'endangered' Black-bellied Sandgrouse, which has declined owing to extensive loss of its steppe habitat in Spain, Portugal and Turkey, along with the Lanner falcon.
The large scale conversion of dry grasslands and traditional dryland cereals to intensive agriculture is driving declines in a whole suite of species across the Mediterranean.
Setting the agenda for the EU's conservation policy
The European Red List of Birds assesses birds across two geographical levels: the European Union (except Croatia); and the wider continent of Europe (stretching from Greenland eastwards across Europe to Turkey and European Russia).
The RSPB, the UK partner of BirdLife International, believes the publication will set the base for European conservation and policy work to be done in the coming years.
"The Red List data provides a solid baseline for monitoring future trends in European biodiversity and for guiding conservation actions", said Craig Hilton-Taylor, Head of the Red List Unit, IUCN Global Species Programme.
"The European Red List of Birds clearly shows the need for constant vigilance and increased action if we are to prevent the loss of biodiversity in Europe."
The report: 'European Red List of Birds'.