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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 February, 2005, 13:29 GMT
Tree sparrows given helping hand
A tree sparrow. Photo courtesy of Richard G Smith.
Tree sparrows have distinctive spots on their cheeks
Birdwatchers in south Wales are working to save one of the UK's most endangered species.

A winter feeding station has been set up on farmland in the Vale of Glamorgan to help boost numbers of tree sparrows.

The pilot project is being run at Ty'n y Caeau Farm, near Marcross, Llantwit Major.

Only two or three breeding pairs are left in the vale, which is considered one of the last strongholds.

The tree sparrow has seen a massive 95% decline in the last 30 years, and only a handful of pairs now breed in south Wales.

Scientists believe that the bird - the rural cousin of the more common house sparrow - has suffered as a result of changes in agricultural practises.

The use of chemicals and the disappearance of stubble fields are thought to have reduced the availability of suitable food throughout the year, and good nutrition is essential to prepare the birds for the breeding season.

The tree sparrow is easily distinguished from the house sparrow as it has a chestnut brown head and a black patch on its white cheek.

House sparrow : RSPB picture
House sparrows are more common, but still down in numbers

Volunteers from Glamorgan Bird Club are spearheading a drive to improve numbers in the Vale of Glamorgan, with the help of local farmers, the charity Earthwatch, and bird food manufacturer Haith.

"We've been helped tremendously by some of the local farmers who have allowed us to erect nestboxes for the tree sparrows on their farm buildings," said Richard Smith of the Glamorgan Bird Club.

"But, if tree sparrows are to cling on in this area, we need to help them outside their breeding season too."

John Evans, who farms at of Ty'n y Caeau, which covers the areas of Marcross and Monknash, allowed club members to distribute bird seed over parts of his land.

The results have been dramatic, according to Neil Donaghy, one of the volunteers involved.

"Our winter feeding looks as though it will greatly benefit other scarce farmland birds too," he said.

"We've already managed to attract good numbers of yellowhammers, skylarks, grey partridges and linnets."

Although ordinary householders can do little in their own back gardens to help encourage more tree sparrows to breed, they can help by reporting sightings near their homes.

Steve Moon, the county recorder for Glamorgan, is keen to hear from anyone who spots a tree sparrow.

"The situation is dire everywhere," he explained. "Members of the public can help us by letting us know if they see any, and we also want to hear from farmers who would be interested in taking part in a similar feeding project."

  • Anyone interested in helping the tree sparrow can contact Steve Moon on 07971520 445 or by e-mail at moonsj@bridgend.gov.uk. Sightings can also be posted on the Glamorgan BIrd Club website.

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    22 Oct 01 |  England

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