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Wednesday, January 28, 1998 Published at 14:41 GMT


Britain's bird under threat
image: [ The Kingfisher has lost 35% of its population ]
The Kingfisher has lost 35% of its population

Britain's bird population is suffering a worrying decline, according to a report by the British Trust for Ornithology.

More than a third of the birds in its study experienced a significant deterioration in survival rates or breeding performance.

[ image: Song thrush has declined by 56%]
Song thrush has declined by 56%
Tawny owls, lapwings, skylarks and song thrushes are among 17 species whose numbers have been cut in half over the past few decades, while the populations of kestrels, starlings and kingfishers have all declined by a more than third.

The BTO warned the Government's Joint Nature Conservation Committee that 40 of the 103 species of breeding bird it studied were under threat.

Its report, Breeding Birds in the Wider Countryside, brought together 25 years of information collected by thousands of BTO members between 1971 to 1995.

It found that 17 species had lost at least 50% of their population, or experienced a worrying fall in survival or breeding performance. A further 23 types of birds had suffered significant declines.

Deteriorating farmland habitat

The BTO says the cause is hard to pin down, but it puts part of the blame on deteriorating farmland habitats caused by more efficient farming methods. It points out that the majority of the threatened species are farmland birds.

The BTO spokesperson, Chris Mead, says fields of crops now have far fewer weeds for birds to feed on, nor can they rely on winter stubble, which has disappeared with the advent of autumn ploughing and sowing.

He says: "We have brought it upon ourselves, by the tools we have given to farmers and what we have asked them to do."

He believes the situation could be turned around with a subtle change to the Common Agricultural Policy favouring environmental concerns. He says small amounts of funding could encourage farmers to: stop using sprays; allow hedges to grow; cultivate rough grass strips in crop fields.

Mr Mead says birds can recover quickly because of their one year breeding cycle. He cites the example of the cirl bunting, which had been under threat, but doubled its population in three years after the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds paid for 10 hectares of land to be purpose-managed for it.

However, changing CAP would not be easy. It needs agreement from all members of the EU and some nations may not view such a process to be in their national interest.

On a smaller scale though, Mr Mead says arable stewardship initiatives have been started recently in Norfolk and Shropshire and may be expanded if successful.

Growing species

The BTO report found that 13 species had actually doubled their numbers over the study period. The sparrowhawk, stock dove and redstart were recovering from an earlier decline.

And the number of scavenging birds, such as the magpie and crow, have grown perhaps as a result of an increase in the number of animals killed on the road.

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Internet Links

Bird on: British Trust for Ornithology

Joint Nature Conservation Committee

UK and Eire list of birds

Bird on: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

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