Tag Archives: British Trust for Ornithology

Bird lovers rally to save Christmas icon

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Conservationists, farmers and wildlife enthusiasts have rallied to the cause of one of England’s most threatened birds, the turtle dove, which has seen its worst year yet.

Numbers have crashed by 85 per cent since 1995 according to the State of the UK’s Birds report released last week, and sightings this summer were the lowest ever. The British Trust for Ornithology’s recent Bird Atlas has revealed that the turtle dove’s range has shrunk dramatically by 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010, but this year a campaign to save the turtle dove has taken off in a big way.

More than 1,250 people rang in to the Operation Turtle Dove hotline in 2013 to report sightings, helping conservationists build up a vital picture of the birds’ nesting and foraging areas. The top county for sightings were Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent.

Operation Turtle Dove, a partnership project between the RSPB, Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England, has been busy visiting farms in the South and East of England to help them put in place measures to help turtle doves bounce back. Advisors have helped unlock £16 million worth of funding for farmers to carry out agri-environment schemes which will benefit the birds.

Simon Tonkin, farmland advisor for Operation Turtle Dove, said: “Although we sing about turtle doves at Christmas, in fact they are in their African wintering grounds at this time of year. But closer to home we believe it is the loss of arable plants from our countryside which is having a major impact on them. These birds spend the summer in England where they rely on wild plants for food – but the way we farm has meant there is often no room for them at the edge of fields.

“Turtle doves are a symbol of enduring love from Chaucer to Shakespeare and their unmistakable purr is an intrinsic part of the English summer. We must act urgently to save these beautiful creatures now while we still can – because if we don’t they will disappear from England entirely within a generation.

“It has been truly heart-warming this year to see the way the public and farmers have rallied to their cause by putting conservation measures in place, raising money and spreading the word. Together we may be able to save this very special species.”

House sparrow numbers stabilise

Country Diary : Two male house sparrows

Pic: Alamy / The Guardian

There was some good news last week when new figures from the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey revealed that the decline in house sparrow numbers appears to have levelled off.

Populations of house sparrows across the UK have fallen from about 12 million pairs in the 1970s to between 6 and 7 million pairs today, with a greater reduction in urban and rural areas than in suburban ones.

But the latest data from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch, a citizen science survey in which birdwatchers and householders monitor gardens across the country throughout the year, suggests that the decline in gardens has stabilised since 2009.

Figures from the trust show that in 1995, the proportion of gardens reporting one or more house sparrows was about 80%. This fell steadily to 60% in 2009, and has remained at the same rate since.

“It’s too soon to say that they are increasing but the decline has definitely levelled off since 2009 and hopefully this means they’ll start to increase again,” said Clare Simm, BTO’s Garden BirdWatch development officer.

The house sparrow is a “red-listed”conservation species which has been in long-term decline, particularly in urban environments. Its populations across Britain have been hit by a loss of nesting sites and food sources, especially insects to feed their young.

In rural areas, changes in farming practices are thought to have affected house sparrows. But in urban and suburban areas the causes have been more complex, with everything from cats to air pollution and pesticides being blamed.

The BTO has recommended five simple measures for gardeners to encourage house sparrows:

• Let an area of your garden go wild to encourage insects.

• Plants like hawthorn and ivy provide thick vegetation for sparrows to hide in.

• Provide them with a home, using either a house sparrow terrace or nest boxes near the eaves of your property.

• Feed them with a suitable seed mix that includes large grains.

• Regularly clean your feeding stations to prevent disease.

‘Shocking’ research reveals big decline in UK birds

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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.