Backyard ornithologists chart disappearance of 44m birds

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

A A A

The UK's bird population has plummeted by 44 million in four decades, according to a study carried out with the help of volunteer ornithologists.

The dramatic decline in numbers - equivalent to one for every person in England and Wales - has been caused by changes in farming methods and the weather, conservation groups say.

Figures collated by organisations including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology found that the number of nesting birds has slumped from 210 million in 1966 to 166 million.

In their report, The State of the UK's Birds, they warn that while numbers for some species, such as the house sparrow, show signs of recovery, further declines are inevitable as birds cope with changes to the environment and conservationists battle for investment in wildlife-friendly farming to be maintained. There is particular concern that spending on wildlife protection in Britain will be disproportionately slashed as a result of cuts in the EU budget this week, with the monitoring of the health of the bird population dependent on continued support from volunteer birdwatchers.

"The State of the UK's Birds report is a great example of 'citizen science' in action," said Dr Tim Hill, Natural England's Chief Scientist. "Most of the information upon which the report is based is derived from the efforts of the nation's network of skilled volunteer ornithologists who contribute to national monitoring schemes."

Dr Andy Musgrove, of the BTO, said: "There is still more to learn, though, and we need the continuing support of ever greater numbers of volunteer birdwatchers, on whose efforts all of these numbers are based."

The 21 per cent drop in Britain's birds is equivalent to the loss of a single breeding pair every minute for the past 46 years, with species including the house sparrow, turtle doves and the wren suffering steep declines.

The differing fates of two dove species encapsulated the shifting fortunes of the UK's birds. There are estimated to be only 14,000 breeding pairs of turtle doves, a significant drop from their 140,000 peak in 1966. Despite coming to Britain only in 1955, there are now one million collared doves.

"Our bird population has been on a rollercoaster ride and it will continue," said Grahame Madge, of the RSPB.

The damage to habitats from change of land use and management of the countryside is thought to be behind much of the decline. Cold winters have also had a dramatic effect.

The bulk of UK spending on conservation linked to farmland, about £243m a year, comes via the Common Agricultural Policy. But up to 20 per cent could be cut from the EU's rural development budget, which conservationists say would be disastrous.

Flying high? population change, 1970-2010

Going down

Corn bunting: Known as the fat bird of the barley, a change in cropping patterns and practices have severely affected its numbers. Down 90 per cent to 11, 000 pairs.

Lesser spotted woodpecker: About the size of a sparrow, it requires extensive high quality woodlands and they are now few and far between. Down 70 per cent to 1,500 pairs.

House sparrow: The iconic and enigmatic sparrow continues to be overall decline. A shortage of food seems to be part of the problem. Down 64 per cent to 5,300,000 pairs.

Lapwing: Has suffered historically through the loss of suitable habitats, with the drainage and conversion of marginal land into farmed land. Down 56 per cent to 140,000 pairs.

Kestrel: One of our most familiar birds of prey. Its decline may be linked to the loss of marginal habitat and the associated decline in the numbers of small mammals. Down 44 per cent to 46,000 pairs.

Going up

Greater spotted woodpecker: This highly adaptable and robust woodpecker is doing well, taking advantage of increasing bird feeding in gardens and, perhaps, increasing amounts of woodland. Up 368 per cent to 140,000 pairs.

Collared dove: First bred in the UK in around 1955. Its spectacular rise across Europe remains something of a mystery, but seems to be related to its ability to adapt and live with humans. Up 333 per cent to 990,000 pairs.

Red kite: Once abundant across much of the UK, this spectacular bird of prey is making its way back thanks to a series of highly successful reintroduction projects. Up 575 per cent to 1,600 pairs (1995-2010 figures)

Blackcap: A small warbler whose adaptable nature has allowed it to buck the trend in recent times compared with close relatives, with an increase in numbers. Most warblers migrate to Africa and many of these are in decline, but the clever blackcap is increasingly staying closer to home in Europe. Up 222 per cent to 1,200,000 pairs.

Nuthatch: Like the greater spotted woodpecker, the nuthatch may be benefiting from an increasing amount of woodland in the environment and perhaps from climate change. Up 232 per cent to 220,000 pairs.

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
news
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
life
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40 - £50K first year: SThree: SThree Group an...

Corporate Communications Manager - London - £60,000

£55000 - £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Corporate Marketing Communications M...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone