Concerted action is needed to save the long-distance migratory birds of Britain and Europe, conservationists are warning today.
Populations of well-loved species such as the turtle dove, nightingale, cuckoo and wood warbler, which come to breed in the UK and the Continent every spring from Africa, are in rapid decline. The migrants may be running into trouble in their British and European breeding grounds, or on their wintering grounds in Africa, or on the arduous 3,000-mile-plus journeys they make twice a year between both – nobody really knows.
Yet there is little doubt that populations are shrinking at an alarming rate, and only an international effort can address their plight, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and BirdLife International, the Cambridge-based international partnership of bird conservation groups.
This effort should begin at the conference of Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) being held this week in Bergen, Norway.
Dr Danaë Sheehan, an RSPB scientist who is an expert on the declining migrants, will be speaking for them at the Bergen meeting. "Migrant birds connect Europe and Africa, crossing our borders, cultures and lives," she said.
"Millions of birds make this incredible long-distance journey twice each year in spring and autumn, but each year the numbers spanning the two continents are reducing rapidly.
"With dramatic land use change in both Europe and Africa, and hazards on migration, such as illegal killing in the Mediterranean, these birds have enormous struggles ahead. Without international cooperation, we're concerned that these species will continue their downward path."
The situation right across Europe for some birds, including turtle doves, warblers and flycatchers, has become so severe that the RSPB and BirdLife are urging that these species should be the focus of a coordinated international conservation plan.
Representatives from both bodies will be calling on Bergen to show support for a resolution for action, submitted by Ghana, and supported by other African nations. It urges the development of a plan for the conservation of African-Eurasian migrant landbirds and their habitats throughout the flyway connecting Europe and Africa.
In Britain, between 1995 and 2009, turtle doves declined in numbers by 74 per cent, wood warblers by 63 per cent, nightingales by 60 per cent and cuckoos by 48 per cent, according to the annual Breeding Birds Survey.