Government launches inquiry into decline of house sparrow

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The decline of the house sparrow, subject of
The Independent's campaign, is to be investigated by an extensive scientific inquiry, the Government will announce today.

The decline of the house sparrow, subject of The Independent's campaign, is to be investigated by an extensive scientific inquiry, the Government will announce today.

An 18-month research contract worth £175,000 has been awarded to a consortium led by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to examine why Britain's once-commonest bird has all but disappeared from many city centres, including London. On Saturday, a census in Kensington Gardens, where sparrows numbered 2,603 in 1925, and 544 in 1950, found there were only eight birds left.

The Independent's campaign, which began in May, has raised awareness across the country of a wildlife mystery only recently recognised as a disturbing phenomenon. Tony Blair cited it as a striking example of environmental degradation in his first major speech on the environment.

The Environment minister, Michael Meacher, said: "The sharp decline of the house sparrow... is unexplained and it may be this precipitate decline is a warning to us all, like the miner's canary." " The Independent has pioneered a path and my department is working along exactly the same lines. We hope the inquiry will tell us what's happening beneath our eyes in our major cities, which could well have much wider lessons for urban policy."

The inquiry, which will also look at the decline of the starling, will be led by Humphrey Crick, a senior ecologist with the British Trust for Ornithology. His organisation will join forces with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the zoology department of Oxford University, the Central Science Laboratory, and Wildwings Bird Management, a consultancy.

The research will begin next month and continue until 2002.

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