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The swallow and dairy cattle: a partnership at risk
02 November, 2001

John Sheard discusses new research which shows that a healthy swallow population is intimately linked with dairy farming

THE SWALLOWS in my neck of the Dales flew south only a couple of weeks ago - much later than normal. The reason, of course, was the supremely mild autumn brought about by global warming.

In the part of the Lune Valley where I fish, the swallows seemed to have had a good year, hatching two - and possibly three - clutches.

It now appears that they were lucky because that part of the valley had escaped the worst ravages (sorry to mention these words again) of foot and mouth disease. For it has just been revealed by some fascinating research in France and Denmark that dairy farming is an important factor in healthy swallow populations.

A Danish scientist called Anders Moller, based at the prestigious Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, conducted a detailed survey of swallow numbers and found that they halved in areas of his native land where dairy farming had ceased.

With the cows gone, swallows laid just one clutch a year, those clutches had fewer eggs, and the chicks that emerged were smaller and in worse condition.

Now the reason for this is not difficult for countryfolk to understand: cattle attract insects, the swallows' food; ergo, the fewer cows, the fewer swallows.

The latest issue of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Magazine reports these findings with great interest under the headline "Swallows and Cows - best mates?" for the BTO has launched a campaign to raise funds for a major study into British swallow populations.

It could not come at a more timely moment for, with huge areas of the UK culled of cattle, those swallows have presumably had a hard time. But for the mild weather, which has allowed insects to keep breeding to the very approach of winter, they might have gone back to Africa months ago.

And who can say how many would come back?

With the future of British farming under examination with an intensity never previously seen, wise heads in the NFU and the CLA should seize on this as another vital link between farming and a healthy environment.

There are undoubtedly many more similar examples which the farmers and landowners could use in talks with the Government - and as ammunition against city based members of the chattering classes who would like to see the countryside as a leisure park cum rural museum where farming plays an insignificant role.

One swallow does not a summer make, goes the adage. But what would a British summer be like without any at all?

The BTO has produced a children's book called Rusty Flies South, detailing the epic journey of a British swallow on its way south to Africa. It costs £5 and all proceeds go to the Swallow Appeal. Cheques for the book, or donations to the appeal, should be sent to the BTO Swallow Appeal, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU.

07 November

Please, John, can we lose this "Global Warming" rubbish? There is NO credible scientific evidence that we are altering the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere, when Pinatubo erupted, it emitted more CO2 in ten days than the human race emits in ten years, and the concentration in the atmosphere never even twitched. The figures are available if you doubt this. The reason for this is the buffering effect of the oceans. Any chemical engineer will explain this in detail. What we have however is Climate Change, a completely different animal. This is what caused the ice to recede, and during the time of the Crusades (King Dick's, not Bush's) caused the climate in the north of England to be good enouth to grow apricots. Three hundred years later, the climate in Northern Europe was so poor that the grain was rotting in the granaries, causing widespread ergot poisoning. I could expound at great length on this subject, suffice it to say that the climate, like the weather, is continuously changing, it was a weather man (Lorentz) who was one of the pioneers of Chaos theory, an important point of which is similarity at all levels of magnification.

David J Walker, Long Preston

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