The Great Decline Of British Birds
The migratory birds may have been lucky, leaving the country when they did. So far the UK has suffered a surprisingly temperate winter, producing immense floods nationwide to round out the second wettest year in the UK’s recorded history. There’s at least a couple of months left in which a major freeze is predicted, though that should end just in time for migration patterns to come full circle, as the British countryside is repopulated with homecoming birds.
Yet data has surfaced to paint a worrying picture, one that suggests this population is shrinking. In 1966 there were an estimated 210 million birds nesting around the UK. As of 2012 that number stands at only 166 million. This amounts to a fall of almost 21% in fifty years, an extremely worrying trend for bird lovers and the national ecosystem as a whole.
This information comes in light of there being a higher variety of breeding species in the UK than ever before. Experts suggest that the major areas of loss are birds living with a reliance on farmland. Cuckoos, turtle doves and lapwings all display vastly reduced numbers compared to their levels in 1966, while further data demonstrate the amount of farmland birds nesting in the UK declining by half between 1977 and 1993 alone, likely to be responsible for a good degree of the reduced population numbers. The theory is that urban expansion and changes to farming methods has resulted in less of the environment able to feed or house these species.
One of the most worrying developments is the shocking risk to the Sparrow. Their numbers have fallen by 20 million since the 1960s, falling by half in rural England and a drop of just over 60% in the urban environment. The creatures are currently red-listed, identifying them as a species in dire need of conservation efforts.
There are some theories behind the alarming reduction in sparrow numbers. Their reliance on human gardens may prove to be their undoing. Studies have shown that consistently loud noise reduces the Sparrows’ ability to hear the cries of their young, and infants may be starving as a result of increased noise pollution.
However, some species and types of birds have appeared to thrive in the interim. The population of the Wood Pigeon has doubled in the years since 1970, with great spotted woodpeckers experiencing an increase of 368%. Wintering Waterbirds doubled their numbers from 1970-2000, and Seabirds experienced a steady increase as well. Even with these positive numbers, their numbers are now falling again. Both types of wild bird have experienced steadily decreasing numbers over the past twelve years, in line with the population loss across the UK in general.
These trends are worrying, though there may still be time to reverse the process. British farmers are beginning to actively participate in preserving the birds that rely on the land to live. The UK population of Red Kites can be traced back to a single breeding female in 1977, saved only through avid conservation efforts. No matter how bleak avian population decline may seem, there’s evidence to prove there’s always time to reverse it.