UK sparrows becoming an endangered species
Monday 10 April 2000
House sparrows are rapidly vanishing from many of Britain's big cities, a survey by The Independent indicates.
The bird thought of as the ultimate urban survivor, once present everywhere and as much as part of city life as traffic jams, is disappearing swiftly in big urban centres across the land. Its decline, which seems to have begun in the late 1970s or early 1980s, appears to have speeded up in the mid-90s, with some areas losing theirremaining birds in five or six years.
The cause of the decline is a mystery: reasons suggested include the disappearance of insect food because of pesticides, disappearance of nesting places as inner-city areas are tidied up, pollution, and - a favourite of many non-scientists - attacks by magpies and other predators with booming urban populations such as sparrowhawks and carrion crows.
The house sparrow has already vanished from central London, as The Independent reported three weeks ago, provoking considerable correspondence from readers.
Now they are also disappearing from such cities as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds, Bradford, Southampton, Sheffield and Nottingham and are in decline in other centres such as Manchester and Bristol. Only in Cardiff do they appear still to be flourishing.
Even though Britain's birds are more intensively surveyed than those of any other country, the phenomenon has been little picked up or publicised inindividual cities so far because sparrows have been so common and inconsequential that birdwatchers have not bothered with them.
"You would miss them by their obviousness," said Brian Hallworth, a birdwatcher in Stockport, Greater Manchester. But he now looks out for sparrows, as a poll by The Independent of bird enthusiasts up and down Britain, in particular of the network of county bird recorders, has shown that the population crash seen in London is being paralleled in many other urban centres.
The fall in numbers across the country as a whole is being registered in big surveys. Two months ago the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) jointly published the first in a series of annual reports on populations.
The State of the UK's Birds 1999 showed house sparrow numbers had fallen 58 per cent between 1975, when they were first monitored, and 1998. A 7 per cent decline for Britain as a whole was recorded in the years 1994-98 by the BTO's breeding birds survey.
But when cities and especially city centres are considered individually, some declines appear astonishing. In Glasgow, house sparrows have gone from the centre, said Ian Gibson, local bird recorder since 1975 and Glasgow City Council's conservation officer. "They've been diminishing for the last 10 years but the decline seems to have accelerated recently," he said. "Flocks used to be common in the city centre, and in particular round George Square but now in the city centre they seem to be extinct."
A more scientific survey of Glasgow's birds, by the world expert on the house sparrow, Denis Summers-Smith, found a density in the suburbs of 4.9 birds per hectare in 1959. When he repeated it in 1997, Dr Summers-Smith found a density of below 0.1 birds per hectare in an area four times as big.
A similar picture has been observed 50 miles away by the Edinburgh birdwatchers Harry Dott and Alan Brown, who observed house sparrows in Princes Street gardens from 1982-84 and again from 1997-99. In the first period the birds averaged between 200 and 300 in number; in the second period, between 20 and 30.
The declines are paralleled in such places as Liverpool, which had a large house sparrow population. Now, according to Eric Hardy, a naturalist who has written a local newspaper column for many years, they are present in only a fraction of their former numbers.
Leftover coffee 'can help fight global warming'
Frilled shark: Australian fishermen capture terrifying shark from the deep
Pope Francis calls for a new system of global government to tackle climate change
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
The ugliest animals on earth: Blobfish, axolotl and proboscis monkey battle it out to be named least attractive beast
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...
£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...
£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...
£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...