Charities call on Londoners to help save the 'Cockney Sparra'


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The Independent Online

The chirruping of the cockney sparra was once commonplace, but now, ten years since a study found that the bird was on the verge of extinction in the capital, charities are calling on Londoners to help save it.

A collection of conservation charities has today launched a survey which asks residents within the M25 to map if and when they spot the birds in an attempt to determine if and where they can still be found, and how best to revive numbers.

House sparrow numbers in rural England have halved since the 1970s while numbers in urban areas have dropped by 60 per cent. The last study, conducted in 2002, found that the bird was nearly extinct in central London.

Now, the RSPB, Europe’s largest conservation charity, and a group of other bird-watching groups and charities, is asking Londoners to fill in an online form and record if and where they see the sparrows in their gardens and local parks.

Birdwatcher Eleanor Reast said: “London used to be so sparrow-rich the birds had their own rhyming slang of ‘bow and arrow’. Their numbers are now dwindling in our gardens and parks. We need to know where they are and where they aren’t to ensure we target resources where most needed.”

A total of 10 000 Londoners took part in the ‘Where have all the sparrows gone’ survey in 2002 which asked them to record if they had house sparrows in their gardens or local parks. The results revealed a stark absence of the birds from the centre of the city. 

But the cause of the bird’s disappearance from our towns and cities remains an environmental mystery more than 10 years after The Independent offered a £5,000 reward for a proper scientific explanation.

Suggestions ranged from the increase in suburban predators like magpies, sparrowhawks and cats to the trend in . Other theories blame lack of suitable insect food such as aphids, disease and mobile phone radiation.

The sparrow count will begin today, Monday June 18, and finish on July 12.