Bird lovers across Britain are deeply worried this week as new statistics reveal that since 1966 Britain’s bird population has declined by a staggering 44 million.
To put that number in perspective, that’s about a fifth of the total population of Britain’s birds, or a fall of one nesting pair per minute.
This is according to figures collated by organizations including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology. In their report, The State of the UK’s Birds, they warn of the sharp decline of bird populations from a once robust 210 million in 1996 to just 166 million today.
What is to blame for this sharp decline?
A lack of seed and grain is one culprit. Another reason the group highlighted is illegal hunting in the Mediterranean where shooting fans gather to take aim at bird flocks during the bird’s annual migration.
Other factors may also include prolonged winters — which has had a particular impact on the wren — coupled with a shortage of food as well as a general lack of breeding grounds thanks to urbanization and a failure to properly maintain habitats.
Dr Mark Eaton is quoted in the report as saying, ”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.”
Some of the sharpest declines in numbers include the tree sparrow, from 666,000 in 1966 to 60,000 in 2012, the turtle dove, with a drop from 200,000 to 14,000, the willow tit from 49,600 to 3,400 and the corn bunting from 110,000 to 11,000.
Not all the news was bad however. Some bird populations have shown some marked growth. The chaffinch, for instance, has increased at a rate of 150 a day. The buzzard has also seen a sharp increase from 16,000 in 1966 to 70,000, while the great spotted woodpecker is up from 38,000 to 140,000, the collared dove up from 298,000 to 990,000, the nuthatch from 95,000 to 220,000 and the blackcap up from 541,000 to 1,200,000.
The State of the UK’s Birds report relies on massive public participation in order to source data, calling on avid bird watchers from up and down the UK to monitor bird numbers in their local environments. Scientists then use this data to build a rough overview of Britain’s bird population.
Dr Andy Musgrove, of the BTO, has said he wants to see an increase in participation in order to further clarify Britain’s shifting bird numbers: ”Amongst individual species, whilst there have been some winners, the number of losers is greater and the long-term picture is sobering. There is still more to learn, though, and we need the continuing support of ever greater numbers of volunteer birdwatchers, on whose efforts all of these numbers are based.”
There is also a red flag that comes along with this report.
Conservationists are warning that EU cuts could have a further deleterious impact on the bird population. Conservation-linked farmland in the UK is, much of it, propped up by £243m a year from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. However, EU leaders have floated cutting up to 20 percent from the rural development budget.
This, conservationists say, could be disastrous for Britain’s birds.
Image credit: Thinkstock.