The UK has failed to meet targets to halt or even slow the loss of wild birds, despite successful efforts to bring some species back from the brink, a new report has shown.

Analysis of 24 birds identified in 1994 as being priorities for conservation help shows that nine out of the 16 species which had been suffering steep declines had since seen numbers stabilise or increase.

But the latest State of the UK’s Birds report, published ahead of an international conference next week to discuss efforts to protect global wildlife, shows that the number of bird species in this country which were in trouble had risen.

There are now 32 species on the UK biodiversity action plan list, prioritising them for conservation action, amid concerns over declines in numbers.

Farmland birds are at their lowest recorded level and an assessment of more than 230 bird populations before and after 1994 reveals almost a fifth are now in decline (19 per cent), compared to one in six (16 per cent) before 1994.

The report for a number of conservation organisations said the continuous decline of birds showed that the UK had failed to meet EU or international targets to halt or slow the loss of wildlife by 2010.

The study documented a number of success stories over the past 15 years, including the turnaround in fortunes of bitterns, corncrakes and roseate terns, which were all in decline in 1994 but are now seeing numbers increase.

But while the report said the recovery of once-rare birds such as red kites and stone curlews showed it was possible to bring a species back from the brink, no single species has recovered fully to previous numbers and range.

And species such as the corn bunting, red-backed shrike and turtle dove continued to decline.

Mark Avery, conservation director of the RSPB, said: “Without a doubt, some of the UK’s most threatened birds are in a much better state than they were in the middle of the last decade.

“Bitterns are nesting across more of the UK and the recovery of the corncrake looks promising. Thanks to the efforts of farmers, the prospect for the skylark are looking a little brighter too.

“However, as more species are added to the endangered list, we are now faced with the twin challenges of helping more wildlife to thrive, while realising that the conservation coffers will be severely stretched over the foreseeable future.”

Tom Tew, chief scientist for government conservation agency Natural England, said the report set out the challenges facing the environment – with many species declining “in front of our eyes”.

“But it is also clear that targeted conservation efforts can make a real difference, highlighting the need for landowners, non-governmental organisations and the government to remain joined up in the fight to save wildlife in the UK.”

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