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Last Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK
Alarm sounded for farmland birds
Skylark, RSPB
Skylarks continue to decline in number
The latest health check on UK bird numbers paints an alarming picture of decline in several threatened species.

Of 26 bird species targeted for special conservation efforts in 1995, nine - including the song thrush - are bouncing back.

But the rest - including the skylark and turtle dove - are either still in decline or have only stable numbers.

The State of the UK's Birds report was published by three conservation groups and four government agencies.

The report suggests that most of the rare species have increased, while the more widespread species have generally continued to decline.

"There is good news and bad news.

Song thrush: Increasing
Tree sparrow: Early stage of increase
Skylark, grey partridge, turtle dove and bullfinch: Declining

"The good news tends to be with those rare, localised species where an organisation like the RSPB or others fix it, because it's a local job," said Martin Avery, conservation director at the RSPB, one of the organisations behind the report.

"But the birds we're still really worried about are farmland birds that should be common everywhere, not just on nature reserves.

"These birds include the skylark, the tree sparrow, the corn bunting and the yellowhammer."


In 1995, birds whose UK populations had halved in number over 25 years, or those birds under threat of global extinction, were treated as the highest conservation priorities by the government, which agreed targets for arresting wildlife decline by 2010.

Each of 26 species received a dedicated "biodiversity action plan" (BAP).

Bittern, woodlark, nightjar: Increasing
Cirl bunting, corncrake and stone-curlew: increasing but have not recolonised former ranges
Ten of the 26 species are considered widespread as they occur across many parts of the UK.

The song thrush is a clear winner among the widespread birds, and has increased by 18% in the last 11 years. But it still has a long way to go to recover to former levels.

The tree sparrow also appears to be in the very early stages of recovery, following a massive decline.

But seven of the 10 widespread species, including the skylark, grey partridge, turtle dove and bullfinch, continue to decline.

The turtle dove has almost halved in number since the creation of the BAP.

Farming changes

Scarcer birds such as the bittern, woodlark, and the nightjar have all increased.

Formerly much more widespread across the UK, the populations of some rare species, such as the cirl bunting, corncrake and stone-curlew, have also increased.

Corncrake   Image: PA
Corncrakes have benefited from targeted conservation efforts

But they still have not managed to recolonise most of their former range, largely remaining at higher density in core hotspots.

Dr Phil Grice, of English Nature, commented: "Tackling the declines in widespread bird species will require sympathetic land management right across the countryside and not just on nature reserves.

"The UK's various agri-environment schemes... now include measures targeted on declining farmland birds, such as the skylark and grey partridge.

"If enough farmers take part in these schemes, there is every chance that we will see a turnaround in the fortunes of the declining species over the coming decade."

The report was compiled by the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology, the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust, The Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature, Environment and Heritage Service (Northern Ireland), Scottish Natural Heritage and Birdwatch.

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