Jersey makes disappearing sparrow a protected species

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The Independent Online

Help is on the way to the house sparrow from the Channel Islands. In Jersey, the UK's most mysteriously declining bird has been made a protected species.

Help is on the way to the house sparrow from the Channel Islands. In Jersey, the UK's most mysteriously declining bird has been made a protected species.

In mainland Britain, the sparrow, the subject of The Independent's long-running campaign, is still legally a pest that can be killed at any time, despite its unexplained disappearance from many places, especially big cities.

But now anyone in Jersey knowingly killing, injuring or taking a house sparrow, or interfering with a sparrow's nest, will face a fine of up to £2,000. The planning and environment committee of The States of Jersey, the island's government, was told its sparrow population had declined by almost half in only five years.

A survey by the island's natural history society, the Société Jersiaise, found that house sparrows in 2000 were only 58 per cent of their population in 1996. The reason is unknown, as is the reason for their decline in mainland Britain. But intensive agriculture is widespread on the island, with heavy chemicals used to grow Jersey royal new potatoes, and small dairy farms being replaced by industrial-scale units.

Intensive farming is thought to be behind the decline of the house sparrow and many other birds in the British countryside, although its urban disappearance is still unexplained.

The Government has resisted calls to change the law to safeguard the sparrow and the starling too, which is also suffering a rapid drop in numbers, but it has commissioned research into the declines of both species by the British Trust for Ornithology.

Our Save the Sparrow campaign over the past year has brought the bird's precarious plight to widespread public attention. The Independent is offering a £5,000 prize for the first scientific paper that can properly explain the house sparrow's disappearance.

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