So long, you old bustards

Extinction claims a great British bird, but there is hope for others, writes Mark Rowe

WILL other birds go the way of the Great Bustard, which last week died out in Britain? Almost certainly, wildlife experts say, but there is some good news: several species once locally extinct now flourish, as farmers and the law give greater support.

Intensive farming, the key reason for the demise of the Great Bustard, is enough to set the wings of other birds trembling. Modern agricultural methods, which utilise every possible tract of land, drastically reduced the large open plains on which the turkey-like bird thrived.

However, wildlife organisations such as the RSPB have begun a campaign to persuade farmers to modify their habits. This has been accompanied by strict enforcement of laws banning the persecution of birds. As a result, several species once persecuted to the point of extinction, including the red kite, osprey and white-tailed eagle, have recovered.

In fact, the number of species seen in the wild in Britain and Ireland actually rose to 551 last year. Among the newcomers are the American coot, the black-faced bunting, the cedar waxwing, and three warblers: bay- breasted, Hume's leaf and eastern Bonelli's.

"The difference with the birds of prey was that, although they were wiped out, their habitat was not destroyed," said RSPB spokesman Chris Harbard. "When they were reintroduced, it is no surprise they flourished. It is no coincidence that it was the birds of prey that were wiped out. They were frequently seen as pests, deliberately persecuted, and their eggs were often extremely valuable. When the eggs are taken it really sends a population into a downward spiral."

The spectacular red kite died out in the 1850s and was reintroduced in 1989, since when numbers have shot up: there are now 71 breeding pairs in Scotland and England, with many on the Welsh borders.

Similarly, the osprey died out in 1916 and was reintroduced in the 1950s: there are now 1,200 breeding pairs in Scotland and in RSPB-protected areas.

The avocet, the wader that is the symbol of the RSPB, also illustrates the ability of nature to fight back against man-made obstacles. It became locally extinct in the early 19th century when land was drained in East Anglia for agricultural purposes. The region was then flooded to obstruct a possible German invasion during the Second World War and the bird returned from continental Europe.

One of the keys to the recovery of many birds, and the future protection of others, is improved farming practices, Mr Harbard said. Grants are now available to subsidise farmers who preserve traditional nesting and feeding grounds, such as hedges and the edges of fields.

"We are campaigning very hard through the Common Agricultural Policy. We need to help farmers who will be disadvantaged financially if they help wildlife," said Mr Harbard. "It's a question of bio-diversity. If we don't find a way of taking the intensity out of agriculture, then you will get a countryside across Europe of farmed fields that are devoid of wildlife. There will just be a crop and nothing else."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

Recruitment Genius: Healthcare Assistant

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This provider of care services is looking for...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Purpose of Role: To co-ordinate maintena...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent