What is the RSPB’s Red List?

What is the RSPB’s Red List?

Breed Facts

The RSPB’s Red List is a list of bird species that are in trouble across the UK for a range of reasons. Recently the cuckoo was added to the list that contains birds such as the house sparrow, turtle dove and the grey partridge. But why are birds added to this list and what is being done for them?


The Red List is compiled from a variety of different sources including the Breeding Bird Survey, the Wetland Bird Survey and the Seabird Monitoring Programme. They study trends in populations as well as which birds are doing well across the country and the world. Birds that are listed by BirdLife International as being Globally Threatened are also added to the Red list.

Once they have all the data, they then use very strict criteria to decide who goes into what category and there is no bending the rules. The Nightingale, for example, has seen a population decline of 49% in the last 25 years but this still leaves it on the amber list, because the cut off point for the Red list is 50%.

However, just because a species is on the amber list as opposed to the red list, this doesn’t mean that species won’t be monitored and work won’t be done to help them. Even green list species can still be the subject of conservation projects. For example, the peregrine falcon has joined the goshawk on the green list yet the RSPB’s Investigations Team is still working full time to stop the persecution of these amazing birds.


Red list criteria

  • Globally threatened
  • Historical population decline in the UK from 1800-1995
  • Severe (at least 50%) decline in breeding population in the UK across the last 25 years
  • Severe (at least 50%) declined in breeding range in the UK across the last 25 years

Amber List criteria

  • Species with unfavourable conservation status in Europe (SPEC=Species of European Conservation Concern)
  • Historical population decline based on 1800-1995 but recovering as numbers doubled in the last 25 years
  • Moderate (25-49%) decline in breeding population in the UK across the last 25 years
  • Moderate (25-49%) decline in breeding range in the UK across the last 25 years
  • Moderate (25-49%) decline in non-breeding population in the UK across the last 25 years
  • Rare breeder – between 1-300 pairs in the UK
  • Rare non-breeder – less than 900 birds
  • Localised – at least 50% of the breeding or non-breeding population living in 10 or less sites
  • Internationally important – at least 20% of European breeding or non-breeding population in UK

Green list

  • Species that occur in the UK on a regular basis and do not come under any of the above criteria


This is different category that applies to birds that have escaped and bred in the wild or have been deliberately released into the wild at some point in history. Because they are not native to the country, they don’t have a specific conservation status.

Next step

Once the data has been analysed using the criteria, then the prioritisation of the conservation work can begin. The RSPB then start to look at why the species are in trouble and what can be done to stop the decline. After this, it is sometimes a case of waiting for a while to see if the measures have had the desired effect.

Currently focus areas include woodlands birds due to the fact that woodland species are increasingly appearing on the red list. Particular species in focus include the lesser spotted woodpecker and the willow tit while their focus on the wood warbler has already started to show some impact.


The wood warblers is a beautiful little songbird that migrates here from the Sahara but since 1994, their population has declined by 62%, making them a member of the Red List. So this summer, a project started looking into what insect food is available in the woods for them as well as catching and ringing the birds so that individual birds can be tracked and monitored.

Another success has been the stone-curlews who have recently been moved from red to amber status. The farmland-dwelling waders had been in decline so a project was set up to find out why. They discovered that a loss of nesting sites was a key factor so a hands-on solution was created. Farmers in the areas where the birds breed were given a government grant to create a patch of habitat on arable land for the birds. And when the farmers needed to spray crops or any other work, they called the RSPB – who moved the nest with eggs or chicks to safety while the work was done then moved back afterwards.

Despite the work and the improvements, stone-curlews aren’t out of the woods yet though as their continuing success is conservation-dependent. If the work wasn’t done, their population would go back into decline so a long-term solution is needed, such as providing more semi-natural grassland areas where the birds can breed without disturbance.

And while the number of species on the list is rising, some of the birds on the list are getting to a better position. The corncrake is still red listed but the population is steadily growing. This was achieved through something as straightforward as getting farmers to change how they mow the fields.

Home help

Nor are the projects all scientific and specialist driven. Something as simple as making your garden friendly towards insects can help boost the food levels for house sparrows and work towards building their population back to normal levels. Putting up nest boxes or leaving room around the eaves for swifts is another simple project.

In fact, making your garden as wildlife friendly as possible and even having a wild corner can be a great benefit for the birds and the other visitors you may not realise you receive. And in winter, putting out good bird food in harsh weather can help the garden birds manage the worst of our weather when they don’t have a nice centrally heated house to live in!



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