A demise that shows why green issues matter

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Behind all the political platitudes and arguments, this is what environmental protection is really about - preventing the disappearance of species such as the beautiful and charismatic lesser-spotted woodpecker.

Behind all the political platitudes and arguments, this is what environmental protection is really about - preventing the disappearance of species such as the beautiful and charismatic lesser-spotted woodpecker.

Dendrocopos minor, to give it its scientific name, brilliantly coloured but only sparrow-sized, is vanishing so fast it is thought to be Britain's most rapidly declining bird. In ever-increasing areas of England and Wales it is regionally extinct. Yet nobody knows the reason why.

Is it climate change? Is it predation by animals? The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has joined other agencies in a research project to find the answer, but all that is known for certain is that between 1970 and 2003 the bird's numbers fell by 77 per cent.

"The government recognises that the population of wild birds in Britain is a key factor in measuring our collective quality of life," said an RSPB spokesman, Graham Madge.

"The lesser spotted woodpecker is the perfect natural indicator of the health of rural Britain."

If the bird's decline continues, it will be clear that something in rural Britain is going badly wrong.

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