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Great Tits


The same phrases keep on being put out as excuses to do nothing about the effect of excessive levels of predation on songbirds. Here is a handy guide on how to interpret them:

Tree Sparrow1. “Nature finds its own balance.”Crow
It does in the Amazon or Yukon but in the UK we have not enjoyed a self-regulating ecosystem since Neolithic times.

2. “Predation is natural.”
The actual level of predation can be very unnatural and much higher where mankind has removed top end predators, introduced others, or modified the landscape everywhere, such as in the UK.

3. “Predators just take the doomed surplus.”

All very well if there was a surplus, but there isn’t. Songbird numbers have crashed over recent decades and there is now a 60% deficit.

4. “Farmers are to blame.”
Some practices, such as autumn sowing, do not help songbirds. However 70% of farmland is now in agri-environment schemes. Practices are improving but songbird numbers are not.

Squirrel5. “Habitat loss is to blame.”
Habitat has actually been improving since the 1970’s with hedge planting, tree planting and field margins, but songbird numbers are not improving. Producing a paradise for songbirds can produce a paradise for predators too.
Willow Tit
6. “There is little evidence that songbird numbers are limited by predation.”
SongBird Survival has been finding that “little evidence” actually means “little research” and, what is more, such science is often of low quality and producing answers that are plain wrong.

7. “An immense amount of research has shown that predation is not a problem for songbirds.”
The RSPB review of predation covered 254 scientific papers but only found three related to songbird predation. The University of Reading rated these as low or very low quality.

8. “Raptors are not to blame for songbird declines.”
The overall level of predation is the problem, rarely a single species. Cats are taking half the annual productivity of all songbirds and all other predator numbers have doubled: that’s the problem.

9. “If you remove a predator another one takes its place.”
Cornbunting Often deployed as an excuse to do nothing. Regularly controlling excessive numbers of predators creates a ‘sink effect’ which will eventually reduce numbers.

10. “These animals have lived in harmony for thousands of years.”
Cat That all ended when you added millions of domestic cats, grey squirrels and brown rats to the equation and removed lynxes, wolves and bears. Lowland habitat has been taken over for human habitation and food production.

11. “Predator numbers are limited by their prey.”
Perhaps in the case of specialists like sparrowhawks and peregrines which only eat birds. But most predators are generalists and when they can’t find birds or nests they can move on to worms or the municipal rubbish tip. Nor does it apply to cats which are fed at home.

12. “Predation might have a localised impact on prey species.”
Localised problems can mean localised extinctions. Increasing local extinctions can lead to national extinctions.

SongBird Survival is a charity commissioning research into the decline of Britain’s songbirds. With your support and membership we hope to reverse their decline. 
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