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Country News - 2003

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Ups and downs for British birds

Wednesday 03 September 2003

THE latest figures from Britain's biggest ever bird census present good news for some much loved rural species like the kingfisher - but worryingly bad news for others like the skylark and the swallow.

But the worst news of all affects two birds with largely urban home ranges, the humble house sparrow - which has declined by more than 70% London - and the starling, down by 13% throughout the country since 1994.

That was the year that the first massive bird census was launched and is now backed by British Trust for Ornithology, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Government-sponsored Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Last year, more than 2,000 volunteer bird watchers made census reports from throughout the UK and the results have now been collated to show trends going back to 1994.

The report shows that the wood pigeon is now Britain's most numerous bird - which will not be good news to cereal farmers and many gardeners - followed by the chaffinch and the blackbird.

Some of our most colourful birds have done well: kingfisher numbers are up a wonderful 76%, probably reflecting much reduced pollution of our waterways, and goldcrests up by 65%.

However, other much loved species have declined: swallows are down 10%, skylarks by 14% and song thrushes by 13%, although this has made a big come-back in the last two or three years.

But the decline of the house sparrow - down 11% in Yorkshire - and the starling is causing the greatest controversy.

Because the majority of these birds favour urban areas, some experts believe that their decline is the result of a huge increase in pet cats which has come about since anti-fouling laws made dog ownership less attractive to town dwellers. This theory, however, has brought howls of protest from cat-lovers.


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