'Half of all bird species' threatened by intensive EU farming

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The future of nearly half of all European bird species is under threat because of man's impact on the environment, a report warns today.

The future of nearly half of all European bird species is under threat because of man's impact on the environment, a report warns today.

A study by BirdLife International to mark the 25th anniversary of the European Union birds directive, amounts to the grimmest prognosis yet for avian life on the continent. Earlier this year, a team of international scientists caused widespread alarm when they warned that global warming threatened a quarter of all European bird species over the next 50 years. But now conservationists have found that no less than 226 species - 43 per cent of the total regularly occurring in Europe - have an uncertain future.

A conference in the Netherlands today will hear how, in the 10 years since the publication of BirdLife's first Birds in Europe study, an additional 45 species have declined to the extent to which they are considered under threat. The trend shows every sign of accelerating despite the protection afforded to wild birds under the EU directive.

Wading birds, including snipe, curlew and lapwing were all found to be declining rapidly in Britain, largely because of the drainage of lowland river valleys and other habitat degradation.

Migratory birds nesting in the UK and wintering in sub-Saharan Africa, including wood warbler, wheatear and house martin have also been affected.

The report found woodland birds, including the marsh tit, farmland birds such as the corn bunting, tree sparrow and linnet were also in danger. Familiar urban birds, including the house sparrow and starling are, for the first time, classified as threatened.

Experts say the changes in farming practices resulting from the common agricultural policy are largely to blame. Among them is the intensification of agriculture and the use of pesticides, practices long established in western Europe, that are spreading to the EU's new eastern members - threatening a whole new cycle of decline.

Mike Rands, BirdLife International's director, said: "The fact that more birds in Europe face an uncertain future compared with a decade ago is deeply worrying. Birds are excellent environmental indicators and the continued decline of many species sends a clear signal about the health of Europe's wildlife and the poor state of our environment."

Mark Avery, conservation director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: "This is the first time species such as the house sparrow, snipe, starling, lapwing and corn bunting have been listed as birds of European concern. Those species have been declining in the UK countryside for decades. The UK's highly intensive agriculture has been mainly to blame for these declines. The great danger is that we will now export intensive agriculture to eastern Europe, destroying their wildlife too."

However, it is not all bad news as the situation of 14 bird species, such as the griffon vulture in southern Europe, have improved partly because of conservation efforts. In Britain the avocet, the RSPB's logo species - a graceful white and black marshbird with an curved bill, has increased spectacularly, and the peregrine falcon has made a substantial recovery.

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