Kestrel numbers in 'steep decline' says RSPB Scotland

Kestrel Image copyright RSPB Scotland
Image caption Kestrels were only spotted at about 35 sites in Scotland during the 2013 Bird Breeding Survey

The number of kestrels in Scotland has declined significantly in recent years, according to conservationists.

RSPB Scotland said the population of the birds of prey dropped by 65% between 1995 and 2012.

Changes in farming practices have been blamed for the decline. The charity is carrying out urgent research aimed at identifying other causes.

The drinks company behind the Kestrel Lager brand has provided funding for the conservation work.

RSPB Scotland's figures come from the latest Breeding Bird Survey which is carried out each year by over 2,800 volunteers across the UK.

Image copyright RSPB Scotland
Image caption Conservationists are investigating the decline in Kestrel numbers

In Scotland, 471 sites were monitored in 2013, with kestrels only observed in about 35 of them.

Studies by the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science suggested the intensification of agriculture could be the main reason for the significant drop in numbers.

Kestrel numbers were found to have fallen at times when there was a change from spring-sown barley to autumn-sown wheat and oil seed rape.

This meant there was less food available in the winter for prey species such as voles and seed-eating songbirds, which in turn meant less food for kestrels.

Staffan Roos, senior conservation scientist at RSPB Scotland, said: "It's really sad to see kestrels suffering such large drops in numbers in recent years.

"Research into what is causing the decline is vital because once we know what factors are having an impact we can offer advice on how to increase the populations of this charismatic bird of prey. For example, we can speak with farmers about increasing field margins to boost vole numbers, which would give kestrels a more abundant food source."

Nest sites

He added: "We are already supporting practical steps that we believe will help us to understand the population decline better.

"We support the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, which recently has increased the monitoring of kestrels and ringing of kestrel chicks throughout Scotland. This will provide useful information on the survival and movements of kestrels. We also provide nest boxes, including on some of our reserves, to reduce the risk of competition for suitable nest sites.

Other factors being investigated as possible contributors to the decline include: climate change, increased competition for nest sites, a rise in the use of rat poisons and intra-guild predation (which is the negative effects on kestrels from larger predators like goshawks and peregrines).

Brookfield Drinks, the owner of Kestrel Lager, has provided funding which is being used for the research programme, for increased monitoring of kestrels as part of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme and to advise landowners, land managers, crofters and farmers on wildlife friendly practices.

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