Search for the lost sparrows of Britain begins

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A new survey of the house sparrow, once one of the commonest and now thought to be one of the most rapidly declining of British birds, is to be launched this week.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is working with Children's BBC to ask young people across the country to look out for their neighbourhood house sparrows, and report the number and location of any nests seen.

Between 1972 and 1996 house sparrow numbers fell by what the RSPB terms a "staggering" 64 per cent, with an estimated loss of 9.6 million birds, particularly from farmland. An RSPB garden survey suggests there are only an average of four sparrows per garden seen now compared with eight per garden in 1990.

The decline, which seemingly began in the late 1970s or early 1980s, appears to have suddenly accelerated in the mid-1990s with some city or suburban areas losing all their birds in five or six years.

Last month a survey by The Independent of 12 cities outside London found house sparrow numbers drastically down almost everywhere. In some city centres, such as Glasgow, the birds had disappeared - as they have from the centre of London.

Nobody knows the cause of the decline although some experts think it may be due to a pollution or pesticide-related decline of insects, which the young chicks need in their first few days of life, before they can eat vegetable food.

The closing date for the survey is 9 June, and survey forms are available on the RSPB website at www.rspb.org.uk/youth or on the BBC's UK Wild site at www.bbc.co.uk/ukwild.

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