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Why Have Our Wild Bird Populations Declined?

From time to time you will hear frightening statistics regarding the decline in wild bird populations. Whilst some species continue to thrive others, including the thrush, skylark and house sparrow, appear to be seriously threatened. The decline has been a gradual process but what exactly is behind the problem?

Agricultural Practices

The majority of species which in decline are farmland birds. Research indicates that it is changes in agricultural practices which are the root cause of the problem.

The drive for increased efficiency in farming has led to the cutting back of hedgerows in order to create larger fields. These fields are ploughed closer to their edges to create a larger area to plant. Damp and water logged areas have been progressively dried out to deliver yet more land. Farmers have been feeling the pinch and so have needed to increase production and have used every means at their disposal.

Sewing the Seeds

In addition, sewing practices have changed. There has been a move to sewing cereals in the autumn rather than in the spring. As soon as a crop has been harvested, the next one is sewn. There is no longer an opportunity for the land to lie fallow. Many farms now specialise in either livestock or crop production and this has impacted habitat diversity. The increased use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has also proved problematic.

Improved Storage

Grain and animal feed storage has become progressively more efficient and so wild birds do not have access to the material. Wild birds have been excluded from cattle feeding stations and old farm buildings have been replaced with more modern facilities and these can exclude nesting birds.

All of this has meant that we have seen dramatic declines in the populations of tree sparrows, corn buntings, willow tits, woodcocks and starlings. Song thrush, bullfinch and skylark populations have fallen by over 50%. On a happier note, bird populations do fluctuate naturally and so the decline in certain species may appear to be more serious than it actually is. Some species are already showing signs of a recovery.

Urban and Suburban Birds

The changes in agricultural practices also impact urban and suburban bird populations. These are generally an overspill from more rural areas. However, the decline in house sparrow populations is the exception. This bird’s population in urban areas should be self-sustaining and should not be impacted by changes to the countryside. But numbers have fallen nonetheless. The causes of this issue have yet to be identified.

It has never been more important to do everything we can to support our wild birds. Conservationists are working hard to influence agricultural practices and to put pressure on government to institute policies which will help the situation. Some habitats are being restored but more must be done. We can all help by creating good habitats for wild birds in our gardens and providing the food and water that they need. We don’t want our beautiful birds to become merely memories.


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