How 2012 cold spring drove away long-distance migratory birds

Huge numbers of Sand Martin and Grasshopper Warbler either died or flew on the sunnier climes

Environment Editor

A A A

Long-distance migratory birds such as the Sand Martin and the Grasshopper Warbler stayed away from the UK in droves last year as a brutal combination of cold and wet spring weather killed huge numbers on route from Africa and forced others with enough energy to fly on to sunnier climes.

Click image above to enlarge graphic

The number of Grasshopper Warblers visiting Britain dropped by nearly three quarters last spring, while the seasonal Sand Martin population fell by more than half. Wood Warbler and Sedge Warbler populations fell by about a fifth, according to the latest Breeding Bird Survey.

Every year millions of birds migrate to the UK in April and May to breed, many of them from as far away as Africa - a journey made considerably more difficult in the face of the wettest UK spring since records began in 1766 and an unseasonably cold snap.

"It takes a lot of energy to fly thousands of miles and many birds either die on the way or arrive exhausted and then die. It is especially tough for a small bird like a warbler which can't hold much energy," said Nik  Shelton, of the RSPB, one of the organisations behind the survey.

But while seasonal fluctuations are unfortunate, longer-term declines in Britain's bird populations are of much greater concern, the survey warned.

The turtle dove population has dived by 85 per cent since the survey began in 1995 as these seed-eating migratory farmland birds suffer from a loss of countryside hedgerows and rising pesticide use.

If the decline continues, the species could become extinct in the UK within a decade, Mr Shelton warns.

The insect-eating, woodland-dwelling Wood Warbler is also suffering badly, with its numbers down by 69 per cent in the past 18 years. The bird is suffering from bad woodland management, which has left many areas too densely-populated with trees, Mr Shelton says.

Grasshopper Warblers visiting Britain dropped by nearly three quarters last spring (Rex) Grasshopper Warblers visiting Britain dropped by nearly three quarters last spring (Rex)  

 

But there is considerable cause for comfort. The Red Kite has made a remarkable comeback in recent years after a sustained period of hunting over the centuries had left the bird of prey close to extinction. But a ban on hunting and the injection of 93 new birds into the countryside in the late 1980s and early 1990s has pushed up the Red Kite population nearly seven times over since 1995.

Last spring's disappointing migrant bird turnout was in stark contrast to 2011 when high levels of rainfall in the Sahel region of Africa, increased the number of migrant warblers in the UK. This year the number is expected to be lower than normal - but higher than last year - because the spring was much drier, Mr Shelton said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism