Bird life makes remarkable comeback in Peak District landscape once scarred by pollution

Endangered bird species are faring far better in England’s original National Park than worrying national trends otherwise suggest.

A golden plover, a species that has seen its numbers increase in the Peak District National Park according to the findings of a new survey. Picture by Moors for the Future Partnership.

Bleak findings of the latest State of Nature report found that 43 per cent of all bird species in the UK are under threat.

That concerning statistic is part of a wider trend outlined by the report’s contributing consortium of leading conservation groups who suggested that the abundance and distribution of UK wildlife species has, on average, declined since 1970.

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However, new research provides fresh hope in the Peak District National Park where the numbers of 21 species - most notably golden plover, snipe and lapwing - have increased over the last 28 years.

The South Pennine Moors Special Protection Area was monitored for breeding bird life for the survey. Picture by Moors for the Future Partnership.

Numbers of curlew, which suffered a 48 per cent decline nationally between 1995 and 2017, rose by a huge 252 per cent between 1990 and 2018 in the Peak District.

Buzzard populations are also thought to be booming. Sightings rose from just one in 1990 to 239 last year.

Similarly, 157 ravens were recorded compared to zero at either end of the same period.

The survey involved a 500 sq km patch of the Peak District, an area of the equivalent size of about 70,000 football pitches in the South Pennine Moors Special Protection Area.

Carried out last year by the Moors for the Future Partnership with help from land owners and land managers, following previous surveys in 1990 and 2004, the results were analysed by the British Trust for Ornithology and have just been published.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association which provided funding for the survey, said: “Conservation efforts on the ground mean that bird populations are not just being sustained but improved, bucking national trends of decline.”

The moors of the Peak District National Park support nationally and internationally important populations of a range of breeding waders and other moorland birds, including the dunlin which has benefited from work to re-wet bogs over the past 15 years.

Sarah Fowler, chief executive of the Peak District National Park Authority, said: “A healthy moorland is in everyone’s interests, not least the wildlife whose habitat it is, so it’s great to see the positive trends reported in this survey.”

The results will inform targeted action to protect and enhance habitats, added Richard Pollitt, land management and conservation adviser at Natural England, another of the survey’s co-funders.

From barren landscapes nearly three decades ago to an improving snapshot of bird life today, the Moors for the Future Partnership reports that much of the bare peat is now returning to vegetated moorlands following years of conservation work.

Many moors now support native plants which is helping to restore crucial biodiversity.