‘Shocking’ research reveals big decline in UK birds


The UK bird population has declined by an alarming 44 million since 1966, according to a new study by conservation organisations.

Scientists producing the report estimate there are 166 million nesting birds in the UK, compared with 210 million in 1966, which means we’ve lost one in five of the individual birds that we had in the sixties.

The State of the UK’s Birds 2012 also reveals that:

  • We’ve lost breeding birds from our countryside at an average rate of a nesting pair every minute.
  • House sparrow are among the worst hit – we have 20 million fewer than in 1966.
  • Birds reliant on farmed land, such as lapwings, cuckoos and turtle doves, have significantly decreased.

Experts believe this is largely down to changes in landscape providing less habitat in which birds can feed and nest. Cold weather is thought to have had a startling effect on bird numbers too.

Some species, however, have increased in number. The wood pigeon has doubled its population since 1970, to an estimated 5.4 million nesting pairs. The great spotted woodpecker, has  gone up 368% since the 1970s, and  the chaffinch has increased at a rate of 150 individuals per day.

Despite these success stories the overall findings  are very worrying. The RSPB  blames a change in land use, which means there is less food for birds to eat in the countryside and places to nest. Garden grabbing and the increase in traffic on roads has also been blamed for the decline in sparrows.

RSPB scientist Dr Mark Eaton said: “It is shocking to think that we’ve lost one in five of the individual birds that we had in the 1960s, especially when you think that the 44 million birds we have lost since 1966 is equivalent to the current adult human population of England and Wales.”

The report was compiled by a coalition of conservation groups, including the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

4 responses to “‘Shocking’ research reveals big decline in UK birds

  1. I grew up in the South of England during the 50/60s and remember hearing cuckoos and skylarks all the time among many others. Visiting this past August/September I noticed how quiet the countryside has become with hardly any songbirds at all. I found it quite depressing. My mother likes to blame the French for the current lack of Thrushes as she says they have eaten them all but we did see one in a park in Hove so they are not completely gone. I did not see one skylark over the south downs at all and it seems that only the Herring Gull is doing well along the coast. What a sad state of affairs this is. I can in the future people will have to reintroduce the sparrow to England from America where it has done extremely well since a few were released in a Brooklyn Cemetery in the late 1800s.

  2. Habitat loss is the number one problem for American birds, too; add to that climate change, window strikes, feral cats and other predators. Oddly enough House Sparrows are often blamed for running off our native species, but I don’t see how that computes at all, when they generally live in urban areas and are virtually non-existent in the countryside. As an extreme example, House Sparrows are second only to Rock Pigeons in the Chicago Loop; indeed they might outnumber the pigeons. I wonder if the American version of this species has evolved to become omnivorous and developed other survival instincts tailored the U.S. urban environment, which can’t possibly be any better for birds than the U.K. Or perhaps the Chaffinches are evicting the House Sparrows.

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