Mysterious declines of woodland birds are prompting conservationists to issue urgent advice on how to improve management of English woods and forests.
Numbers of more than 20 bird species associated with woodlands have plummeted in the last 10 years and scientists suspect that changes in woodland management may be amongst the causes.
The willow tit, down 67 per cent, the wood warbler, 52 per cent drop, the lesser spotted woodpecker down 75 per cent, and the 44 per cent fall in spotted flycatcher numbers are amongst the worst declines, despite an increase in the amount of native woodland since 1990. The declines also show that birds with differing needs and lifestyles have been affected, highlighting the difficulty of identifying the causes.
A reduction in insect food, altered nesting dates due to climate change, and changes to migration and over-wintering sites in Africa are amongst suggested reasons for the declines requiring long-term action. The management of the woodlands themselves may also be an issue and in the short term, improving their management and condition will help.
To improve management practices, the RSPB and Forestry Commission yesterday published the Woodland Management for Birds guide. It is aimed at more than 300 woodland managers and advisors throughout England covering 617,000 acres (250,000 hectares) of land - an area almost the size of Derbyshire. It details the habitat requirements of woodland birds most in decline and gives practical advice on how to help them.
Nigel Symes, Land Management Advisor at the RSPB said: "We think one of the reasons the birds are suffering is because of the loss of good quality woodland and the waning of traditional woodland skills such as coppicing.
"Coppicing allows a variety of forest species to thrive and used to be central to many rural economies. Now it is an art practiced only in small pockets to produce a variety of products ranging from garden furniture to horse jumps, and charcoal"