Britain has 40 more species of birds than in 1800

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The Independent Online

The see-sawing fortunes of Britain's wild birds over the past 30 years are vividly recorded in a comprehensive newreport, which shows that while some species have plunged into dire straits others have made remarkable recoveries from decline.

The see-sawing fortunes of Britain's wild birds over the past 30 years are vividly recorded in a comprehensive newreport, which shows that while some species have plunged into dire straits others have made remarkable recoveries from decline.

To some extent the greatest decreases have been among small, dull-coloured and inconspicuous things - sparrows, starlings, skylarks and song thrushes, for example - while the spectacular regenerations have been seen in birds that are fierce, large and magnificent, such as red kites, ospreys, marsh harriers and peregrines.

The report, The State of UK Birds, a joint production by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the British Trust for Ornithology, examines the falling and rising populations of the country's regular breeding birds between 1970 and 1999.

They totalled 197 species at the start of the period and 207 at the end, because one of the notable aspects of British birdlife has long been the steady stream of new arrivals.

There are nearly 40 more species breeding in the UK now than 200 years ago. About one-third have been introduced, including the golden pheasant, the mandarin duck and the ring-necked parakeet, whose loud call and flash of brilliant green is an increasingly familiar sight in some London suburbs. The remainder of the newcomers have colonised naturally: they include Cetti's warbler, the collared dove and the goldeneye (a duck), and as recently as 1996, the little egret.

But several long-familiar birds are in deep trouble. Song thrushes, grey partridges and corn buntings are at their lowest recorded levels, while sparrows and starlings have undergone such severe declines that they are now candidates for rescue packages.

Already 26 such packages, known as Biodiversity Action Plans or Baps, are being carried out, but the report predicts three-quarters of them have little hope of reaching their short- term or medium-term targets, and further population declines are inevitable.

"The most successful action plans are for the rarer species in the UK, including the corncrake, the cirl bunting and the stone curlew, where targeted on-the-ground action can deliver immediate benefits," said Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's director of conservation.

Farmland birds have been hit hard: skylarks have dropped by perhaps 75 per cent while lapwing populations have halved. Woodland birds, including marsh tits, willow tits and redpolls, have also suffered.

Yet other woodland species are rising steadily, including blackcap, nuthatch and great spotted woodpecker. Some may be benefiting from milder winters, the report suggests: over the past 30 years nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers have expanded north into Scotland for the first time.

The great successes have been the birds of prey, which have come back in some cases (such as ospreys and peregrines) from near-extinction caused by persecution or pesticide poisoning.

In total, of 176 species where a trend can be recognised, two are stable, 80 are declining and 94 are rising.

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