Fears over futureof farmland birds

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The Independent Online

An alarming decline in six once common species of birds has raised fears about their disappearance from the British countryside.

An alarming decline in six once common species of birds has raised fears about their disappearance from the British countryside.

The grey partridge, whose numbers fell 43 per cent between 1994 and last year, and the corn bunting, which has seen a 26 per cent drop, are no longer nesting in Northern Ireland.

The British Trust for Ornithology's breeding birds survey also shows that the bullfinch has declined by 28 per cent, the turtle dove by 18 per cent, the skylark by 16 per cent and the linnet by 14 per cent.

Mainland Britain now has only 100,000 to 145,000 pairs of grey partridges - 82 per cent down on 30 years ago - and possibly less than 15,000 pairs of corn buntings. Ornithologists fear their slide will continue.

Clive Mellon, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds conservation officer in Northern Ireland, said: "The extinction of native grey partridges and corn buntings in Northern Ireland is a warning about what could happen in the rest of the UK."

Richard Bashford, the BTO's survey organiser, saidsome farms leftstrips by crops to give birds crucial cover during the breeding season, but added: "The new statistics give reason for concern about the future of a whole range of British farmland birds - I dread to think how many will be left in 20 years' time if these trends continue... these decreases can be linked to changes in farming methods, reducing their habitat and food supply."

The house sparrow, the subject of an Independent campaign due to its decline by up to 95 per cent in major cities, is "actually increasing significantly" in Wales, while "declining significantly" in England and Northern Ireland.

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