Birdwatchers confirm plight of starlings and sparrows

A A A

More than 250,000 people – twice the expected number – participated in the biggest mass birdwatch in the gardens, parks and schoolgrounds of Britain at the end of January.

More than 250,000 people – twice the expected number – participated in the biggest mass birdwatch in the gardens, parks and schoolgrounds of Britain at the end of January.

But the results of the Big Garden Birdwatch provided a depressing reminder of the continuing decline of Britain's most common birds, the starling and the house sparrow.

Although more of these species were spotted – 700,000 and 673,000 respectively - well ahead of the blue tit in the No 3 spot on 455,000, the survey shows starling numbers have dropped by 70 per cent and house sparrows by 57 per cent since 1979. Both are candidates for the official red list of species of conservation concern. Garden Birdwatch, organised annually for the past 23 years by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has monitored their decline.

The figures tally with the evidence produced by The Independent's two-year campaign to find a cause for the sparrow slump, particularly in urban centres, their former strongholds. In a classic example, in Kensington Gardens, London, only 12 were counted in the summer of 2000, compared with 2,603 in 1925.

Also in the summer of 2000, checks in the centre of Sunderland found only eight sparrows – yet in the RSPB survey 56 were counted in one garden just five miles away at the village of Whitburn, highlighting the stark contrast between city centres and semi-rural areas on their outskirts. Richard Bashford, the survey co-ordinator, said such results confirmed the disappearance of sparrows from population centres.

Despite the bad news, he was delighted with the response of the public. "More than a quarter of a million people was far beyond what we hoped to achieve – it was a fantastic response, demonstrating the extent of public interest in birds. Also with over 4 million birds counted nationally, it shows how important gardens are to wildlife – add them all together and we have a quite considerable nature reserve."

Unlike sparrows and starlings, some species are increasing in numbers. The garden populations of collared doves – which only colonised Britain in the 1950s – were the seventh most commonly seen species and the woodpigeon ninth. Populations have increased by 500 per cent since the survey began. Milder winters are given as the reason for the 150 per cent increase in the numbers of wrens since 1979.

Blackbirds were found to be the most widespread UK garden birds, cropping up in 89 per cent of all gardens, and other similar areas, covered by the survey. However, the distribution maps show lower numbers in more westerly and southerly parts of the country – probably a reflection of greater breeding success in eastern regions.

Most common garden birds

1) Starling: More than 700,000 counted but the starling population is down by 70 per cent since 1979.

2) House sparrow: 673,000. Numbers have fallen almost as sharply as starling (57 per cent).

3) Blue tit: 455,000. Found to be in particular decline in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

4) Blackbird: Spotted the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. 411,000 recorded.

5) Chaffinch: Commonest garden bird in Scotland, seen relatively infrequently in England. Total sightings 369,000.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent