Alarming fall in bird populations

CONSERVATIONISTS are increasingly concerned about declining numbers of birds once common in Hampshire.

An annual survey has found that once-familiar species such as starlings and house martins are suffering plummeting populations compared to the 1990s.

The cuckoo has almost vanished in many parts of our region, according to the latest State of the UK’s Birds report.

Of the 107 most widespread and common breeding birds, 16 have declined by more than one third since 1995.

In the south east a number of species have seen huge falls in population, including:

 House sparrows - down 38 per cent.

 Starlings down - 62 per cent.

 House martins - down 49 per cent.

 Swifts - down 49 per cent.

In more rural areas, turtle dove numbers have dropped by 86 per cent and cuckoos by 59 per cent.

Many of these species are reliant on habitats in the so-called wider countryside rather than being maintained on special sites, such as nature reserves.

The decline has been brought into sharp focus with the launch of the Bird Atlas 2007-11, published by the British Trust for Ornithology.

This mammoth mapping project covered all of the breeding and wintering birds and revealed how many countryside birds are disappearing.

RSPB conservation scientist Dr Mark Eaton said: “I think many of us have been shocked by how poorly some of our most familiar species are faring.

“Many of the birds we’re referring to aren’t rare and don’t occur in remote locations.

“On the contrary, they are ones you used to see while walking the dog or enjoying a family picnic.”

However, while some species are declining, others are on the up in the south east.

Red kite numbers have soared by more than 1,000 per cent and the great spotted woodpecker population has more than doubled.

But Phil Grice, a senior environmental specialist in ornithology at Natural England, said: “While we have made great progress with reversing the declines in many of our rarer bird species, thanks to site management and species recovery work, improving the fortunes of our ‘wider countryside’ birds requires us to think beyond good management of our special sites.

“We are working in close partnership with farmers and other land managers to make a difference for biodiversity across whole landscapes.”

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