Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 1007–1017 | Cite as

Bird responses to housing development in intensively managed agricultural landscapes

  • Simon GillingsEmail author


Housing a growing human population is a global issue and designing environmentally friendly developments requires identifying the species likely to be negatively impacted and finding mitigation solutions. Existing studies that consider fragmentation of natural habitats have limited application in countries such as Britain where a prime target for development is agricultural land where decades of intensive management have already diminished biodiversity. Here I used citizen science data on the abundance of 146 breeding and wintering birds to develop models linking abundance to human population density and habitat features. I used these as a proxy for the urbanisation process, finding that impacts of urbanisation were species-specific and context dependent. Low-density developments benefited a high proportion of birds, with wetland birds benefitting most and farmland birds least, but as human densities increased further, up to 75% of species were negatively impacted. Almost half of species currently occurring at 14 flagship residential development sites were predicted to decline based on projected human population density increases, with a third predicted to increase. Presence of wetlands, canopy cover and patches of trees all benefited certain species but efforts to identify more detailed habitat associations were hampered by collinearity among variables. I conclude that even in heavily degraded agricultural landscapes, a high proportion of species will be negatively impacted by residential development and that some will require spared land to persist in the wider landscape. As no single habitat benefited the entire bird community, urban planners wishing to design bird-friendly developments will need to make difficult decisions over which aspects of the bird community to prioritise.


Residential development Breeding birds Wintering birds Landscape planning Farmland 



I thank the many volunteers who provided the Atlas data on which this study is based. Thanks to Chris Lloyd for supplying the human population data from the Liverpool PopChange project. Alison Johnston and Philipp Boersch-Supan provided statistical advice. Daria Dadam, Jennifer Border, Kate Plummer, Gavin Siriwardena and two anonymous reviewer provided comments on earlier drafts. This work was funded by a grant from the John Ellerman Foundation and through partnerships with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and with Natural England.

Supplementary material

11252_2019_895_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.3 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 2323 kb)


  1. Aronson MFJ, La Sorte FA, Nilon CH et al (2014) A global analysis of the impacts of urbanization on bird and plant diversity reveals key anthropogenic drivers. Proc Biol Sci 281:20133330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aronson MF, Lepczyk CA, Evans KL, Goddard MA, Lerman SB, MacIvor JS, Nilon CH, Vargo T (2017) Biodiversity in the city: key challenges for urban green space management. Front Ecol Environ 15:189–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Balmer DE, Gillings S, Caffrey BJ, Swann RL, Downie IS, Fuller RJ (2013) Bird atlas 2007–11: the breeding and wintering birds of Britain and Ireland. BTO, ThetfordGoogle Scholar
  4. Belaire JA, Westphal LM, Whelan CJ, Minor ES (2015) Urban residents’ perceptions of birds in the neighborhood: biodiversity, cultural ecosystem services, and disservices. Condor 117:192–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beninde J, Veith M, Hochkirch A (2015) Biodiversity in cities needs space: a meta-analysis of factors determining intra-urban biodiversity variation. Ecol Lett 18:581–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. CEH (2011) Land cover map 2007 dataset documentation version 1.0, 06 July 2011. CEH, WallingfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Chamberlain DE, Gough S, Vaughan H, Vickery JA, Appleton GF (2007) Determinants of bird species richness in public green spaces. Bird Study 54:87–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark NE, Lovell R, Wheeler BW, Higgins SL, Depledge MH, Norris K (2014) Biodiversity, cultural pathways, and human health: a framework. Trends Ecol Evol 29:198–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Collas L, Green RE, Ross A, Wastell JH, Balmford A (2017) Urban development, land sharing and land sparing: the importance of considering restoration. J Appl Ecol 54:1865–1873CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Concepción ED, Obrist MK, Moretti M, Altermatt F, Baur B, Nobis MP (2016) Impacts of urban sprawl on species richness of plants, butterflies, gastropods and birds: not only built-up area matters. Urban Ecosyst 19:225–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cox DTC, Shanahan DF, Hudson HL, Plummer KE, Siriwardena GM, Fuller RA, Anderson K, Hancock S, Gaston KJ (2017) Doses of neighborhood nature: the benefits for mental health of living with nature. Bioscience 67:147–155Google Scholar
  12. Dallimer M, Irvine KN, Skinner AMJ, Davies ZG, Rouquette JR, Maltby LL, Warren PH, Armsworth PR, Gaston KJ (2012) Biodiversity and the feel-good factor: understanding associations between self-reported human well-being and species richness. Bioscience 62:47–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DCLG (2016) Locally-led garden villages, towns and cities. GCLG, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. DCLG (2017a) Fixing our broken housing market. DCLG, LondonGoogle Scholar
  15. DCLG (2017b) Land use change statistics in England: 2015–16. DCLG, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Defra (2017) Wild bird populations in the UK, 1970 to 2016. Defra, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Devictor V, Julliard R, Couvet D, Lee A, Jiguet F (2007) Functional homogenization effect of urbanization on bird communities. Conserv Biol 21:741–751CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duraiappah AK, Naeem S, Agardy T, Ash NJ, Cooper HD, Diaz S, Faith DP, Mace G, McNeely JA, Mooney HA, Oteng-Yeboah AA, Pereira HM, Polasky S, Prip C, Reid WV, Samper C, Schei PJ, Scholes R, Schutyser F, Van Jaarsveld A (2005) Ecosystems and human well-being: biodiversity synthesis; a report of the millennium ecosystem assessment. World Resources Institute, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  19. Evans KL, Newson SE, Gaston KJ (2009) Habitat influences on urban avian assemblages. Ibis 151:19–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grimm NB, Faeth SH, Golubiewski NE, Redman CL, Wu J, Bai X, Briggs JM (2015) Global change and the ecology of cities. Science 319:756–760CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Khan J, Powell T, Harwood A (2013) Land use in the UK. Office for National Statistics, LondonGoogle Scholar
  22. Lin BB, Fuller RA (2013) Sharing or sparing? How should we grow the world’s cities? J Appl Ecol 50:1161–1168Google Scholar
  23. Lloyd CD, Bearman N, Catney G, Singleton A, Williamson P (2016) PopChange. University of Liverpool, LiverpoolGoogle Scholar
  24. Marzluff JM (2016) A decadal review of urban ornithology and a prospectus for the future. Ibis 159:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McKinney ML (2006) Urbanization as a major cause of biotic homogenization. Biol Conserv 127:247–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McKinney ML (2008) Effects of urbanization on species richness: a review of plants and animals. Urban Ecosyst 11:161–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Morton D, Rowland CS, Wood CM, Meek L, Marston C, Smith G, Wadsworth RA, Simpson IC (2011) Final report for LCM2007 - the new UK land cover map. Countryside survey technical report no 11/07. NERC/Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, LancasterGoogle Scholar
  28. ONS (2011) Census Analysis - Comparing Rural and Urban Areas of England and Wales Accessed 23 Jan 2017
  29. ONS (2017) Live tables on dwelling stock (including vacants). Accessed 23 Jan 2017
  30. Sarkar C, Webster C, Pryor M, Tang D, Melbourne S, Zhang X, Jianzheng L (2015) Exploring associations between urban green, street design and walking: results from the greater London boroughs. Landsc Urban Plan 143:112–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Seto KC, Fragkias M, Güneralp B, Reilly MK, Pidgeon A (2011) A meta-analysis of global urban land expansion. PLoS One 6:e23777CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Silva CP, Sepúlveda RD, Barbosa O (2016) Nonrandom filtering effect on birds: species and guilds response to urbanization. Ecol Evol 6:3711–3720CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Soga M, Yamaura Y, Koike S, Gaston KJ (2014) Land sharing vs. land sparing: does the compact city reconcile urban development and biodiversity conservation? J Appl Ecol 51:1378–1386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Stott I, Soga M, Inger R, Gaston KJ (2015) Land sparing is crucial for urban ecosystem services. Front Ecol Environ 13:387–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tratalos J, Fuller RA, Evans KL, Davies RG, Newson SE, Greenwood JJD, Gaston KJ (2007) Bird densities are associated with household densities. Glob Chang Biol 13:1685–1695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. VanDerWal J, Falconi L, Januchowski S, Shoo L, Storlie C (2014) SDMTools: species distribution modelling tools: tools for processing data associated with species distribution modelling exercises. R package version 1.1–221. Accessed 25 July 2019
  37. Verbeeck K, Van Orshoven J, Hermy M (2011) Measuring extent, location and change of imperviousness in urban domestic gardens in collective housing projects. Landsc Urban Plan 100:57–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wheeler BW, Lovell R, Higgins SL, White MP, Alcock I, Osborne NJ, Husk K, Sabel CE, Depledge MH (2015) Beyond greenspace: an ecological study of population general health and indicators of natural environment type and quality. Int J Health Geogr 14:17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wood S (2007) The mgcv package. Accessed 25 July 2019
  40. Wood SN (2016) Generalized additive models: an introduction with R, second edition. Chapman & Hall, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  41. Woodland Trust (2015) Residential developments and trees. Woodland Trust, GranthamGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.British Trust for OrnithologyNorfolkUK

Personalised recommendations