An initial assessment of the sustainability of waterbird harvest in the United Kingdom.

Published online
11 Mar 2023
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Ellis, M. B. & Cameron, T. C.
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There is a need to assess the sustainability of wild bird harvest in the United Kingdom (UK), and more widely, across Europe. Yet, data on populations and harvest sizes are limited.We used a demographic invariant method (DIM) to estimate potential excess growth (PEG) for populations of UK wintering waterbirds and calculated a sustainable harvest index (SHI) for each. We compared this with population trends and conservation classifications (e.g. Birds of Conservation Concern [BoCC]) to assess the sustainability of harvests and the utility of these classifications. Our approach found evidence for potential overharvest of mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Eurasian teal Anas crecca, gadwall Mareca strepera, Canada geese Branta canadensis, greylag geese Anser anser and woodcock Scolopax rusticola. Whether DIM methods predict overharvest is highly dependent on estimates of maximum population growth rates inferring PEG. We found estimates of maximum population growth to be variable across a range of different methods.We found no relationship between SHI and short-term wintering trends or conservation classification under the UK's BoCC framework. There was however a positive relationship between SHI and long-term wintering trends. Policy implications. Our results suggest that UK-based harvest is unlikely to be a major determinant of population trends for the majority of UK overwintering waterbirds, but harvest rates for some species may exceed that required to maintain stationary population growth. The lack of a relationship between conservation classifications and SHI strongly suggests that such conservation classifications are not an appropriate tool for making decisions about harvest management. Instead, our assessment provides the basis for a framework to make evidence-based decisions on sustainable harvest levels in the face of incomplete data. There is currently no clear policy instrument in the UK to support such a framework via controls on either harvest effort or mortality of waterfowl. We believe such an instrument is urgently needed to ensure the UK can adapt to changing pressures and ensure the sustainable use of our wildlife populations.

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