The silencing of the birds
By Robert Middleditch
this article first appeared in the January 18, 2017, issue of Country Life
Losing 60% of our songbird population in one year would, by any measure, be a disaster, but the fact that this catastrophic decline has happened so slowly, over several decades, means that few people have noticed. The tree sparrow has plummeted by a staggering 95%, the spotted flycatcher and starling by 89% each. The UK supports a billion-pound conservation industry, which suggests that we are concerned, yet we have still allowed the local and regional extinction of some songbirds to threaten to turn into national extinctions over a mere two generations. Do we want to be condemned as the generation that passively permitted such a crash in avian biodiversity?
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It is with much sadness that we announce the sudden death of Keith McDougall, Policy Director for SBS from 2005 to 2012.
Keith brought a great deal of bird and wildlife knowledge to the task. He was an enormous help to all of us as a colleague helping to run the charity. He had a great depth of knowledge of many conservation, farming and other countryside wildlife organisations. This was of great value as SBS got larger and more ambitious. He encouraged us to pursue a scientific path to gain greater credibility for the charity. He wrote many excellent pieces for our newsletters and was never short of having something interesting to say! It is no exaggeration to say that he put SBS firmly on the road that we have followed since he retired 4 years ago.
We will miss him enormously but will not forget his considerable contribution, his companionship and his kindness to so many of us. Rest in Peace, Keith.
KEITH ARUNDEL McDOUGALL Died suddenly at home in Stiffkey on Monday, August 22nd, 2016. Husband of Jane and much loved father of Struan, Harriet, Charlotte, Victoria and Susannah, and grandfather to six. A Service Of Thanksgiving will be held at 2.00 pm, on Wednesday, September 7th, at St John The Baptist Church, Stiffkey. Family flowers only but, if desired, donations to either Songbird Survival or How Hill Trust may be given at the service or sent c/o Fakenham & District Funeral Services, Weasenham Manor, Weasenham, King’s Lynn, PE32 2TF. Tel: 01328 838838.
Click here to read the obituary in The Telegraph
Method or madness? The science behind the
bird decline debate.
By Dr Christopher Paul Bell
Scientific research is the gold standard of evidence-based policy making. Whenever a controversial decision has to be made, whether by a CEO, a politician or a bureaucrat, the outcome is presented as a fait accompli established by ‘the science’, rather than by the predilections of the decision-maker. However, not all science is created equal, and ecology in particular boasts few of the certainties emerging from the harder sciences. Where facts and theories are fuzzy, qualitative and tempered by caveats, there is a particular problem with confirmation bias. Go looking for evidence for a pet theory and you are sure to find it in spades, while results favouring alternative theories are ignored or explained away.
Evidence for the effects of predation is often dismissed on the basis that other environmental variables, usually related to agriculture, have not been taken into account. Yet when the boot is on the other foot, the same critics are silent. One of the cornerstones of the theory that bird declines on farmland have been caused by winter food shortage related to intensive agriculture, is an Oxford study published in Nature magazine . This showed improved survival in over-wintering House Sparrows in areas where grain was provided at rural feeding stations. What the Nature article fails to report is that the feeding stations used were especially designed to be Sparrowhawk-proof. The fed sparrows may therefore have survived better simply because they were no longer required to expose themselves to the risk of predation in order to find food. Reputation is clearly no proof against uncritical reporting of results favouring the prevailing narrative. Click here to read more
Bulb field in the Netherlands
Some rural Norfolk verges could be left uncut for three years
By Alex Hurrell, EDP 28th September 2015
Twice-a-year cuts across the county could be reduced to once every three years on straight stretches of road.The move has been cautiously welcomed as a “step in the right direction” by one countryside campaigner.
But it is likely to dismay those who feel the county’s verges already look scruffy and obstruct visibility.
Norfolk County Council officers are preparing a report on possible changes which will be discussed by the Environment, Development and Transport (EDT) Committee in November.
At present, rural verges are cut one metre deep across the county twice a year.
Click here to read more
By Keith Cowieson
As another breeding season draws to a close, I always start to think about the perils, both man-made and natural, that our song and other small birds will have to face before the nights start to draw out again next spring. One of those man-made perils is the illegal killing of migratory songbirds that run the gauntlet of hunters and trappers around the Mediterranean basin as they make their way to and from their African wintering grounds. Indeed, protecting migratory birds in the eastern Mediterranean was the theme of this year’s Bird Fair – the annual celebration of birdwatching, and shop window for the birdwatching industry. The plight of those migrants is detailed in ‘The Killing’ - http://www.birdlife.org/illegal-killing
- the BirdLife International (BI) partnership’s review of illegal killing in the region. The number of songbirds illegally killed is huge, estimated to be around 20 million, and in the words of Patricia Zurita, BI’s CEO, ‘….the illegal killing is taking place at quite extraordinary and unsustainable levels’. In this, Zurita is absolutely correct and although our Charitable Objects limit our activities to the UK only, we will continue to highlight the issue through social media and other outlets, which brings me nicely onto the extraordinary and unsustainable level of killing that free-roaming, non-native, domestic and feral cats inflict upon UK’s songbirds; if 20 million annual songbird deaths around the Mediterranean is unsustainable, how much more unsustainable must 55 million-or-more bird deaths be in our small islands? Click Here to read more
Cats may have nine lives but mice don’t, owners told
Daily Telegraph, 26 Jun 2015
The number of animals killed each year by domestic cats in the UK runs into the millions.
Cat owners are in denial about the murderous impact their pets are having on wildlife, experts claim.
A study of 86 cats living in two UK villages found that owners had little understanding of the scale of the slaughter.
In a survey, 60% disagreed that cats were harming wildlife and 13% strongly disagreed. Owners were also strongly opposed to keeping their cats indoors as a control measure.
Click here to read more
Cat and Mouse
Reed Bunting by Keith Cowieson
Bridging the “hungry gap”
From Shooting Times & Country Magazine 18 March 2015
Graham Appleton on the need for the “messy bits” to help our birds in spring.
As winter turns to spring, we might expect life to get easier for our farmland birds, but the toughest challenges come in April and May.
Here, in the arable flatlands of East Anglia, last year’s seeds have been disappearing as sugar-beet fields have been harvested, ploughed and sown. As a consequence, finches and buntings have become increasingly dependent on wild bird covercrops, whether provided as part of stewardship schemes or for pheasants and partridges. Maintaining these areas for as long as possible into the spring is one way to help birds such as the yellowhammer, tree sparrow and linnet, all red-listed species of conservation concern.
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Wildlife and Farming
By Jenny Grewal, Mythic Hippo Photography
For those of you who don’t know me, I am a farm vet and wildlife photographer. As such, two things very close to my heart are British farming and wildlife, and I can’t help but feel that farmers in this country get a raw deal when it comes to the public’s perception of their views on wildlife. A lot of people seem to think that being a farmer is incompatible with liking, being interested in or even respecting wildlife; my day to day work shows me otherwise. So what better to write about for my first ever blog post than my experience of wildlife and farming? Maybe I can shed a little light on this seldom considered aspect of farming in Britain. Click here to read more
Barn Owl by Christopher Watson
Rose-ringed Parakeet on Feeder by tiny_packages
Ring-tailed parakeets are flying beyond our control
By David Goode, Daily Telegraph, 18 Feb 2015
The pesky green birds are now among us - in London, Edinburgh, and even the vineyards of the North Downs. It’s too late to escape them now.
Of all the recent additions to our flora and fauna, one stands out as particularly extraordinary and exotic. It is not dreaded Japanese knotweed, though it too has spread like wildfire – it is the ring-necked parakeet. Some people love them, some hate. But what should we do about them? Click here to read more
Squirrel cull lets reds branch out
By Jonathon Leake, Sunday Times, 1st March 2015
Plans are being drawn up for Britain’s biggest wildlife cull, aimed at eradicating the grey squirrel from swathes of countryside, with volunteers using traps and poison.
The scheme follows an experiment on Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales, in which the animals were cleared from the island, so it will shortly be declared a grey squirrel-free zone. The removal of the 3,000 greys has allowed the recovery of the native red squirrel, now numbering around 700, and is expected to boost woodlands and native birds, both of which are attacked by greys. “When we suggested grey squirrels could be eradicated people laughed at us because there are so many of them but we have proved it can be done,” said Dr Craig Shuttleworth, of the European Squirrel Initiative. “Not only have we cleared Anglesey but we have extended our work into north Wales, with red squirrels spreading across the bridges and out of Anglesey into Bangor, Beddgelert and the Ogwen valley in Snowdonia.”
Shuttleworth will detail the success on Anglesey to MPs at a parliamentary meeting to discuss the invasive alien species legislation recently passed by the European Union. It obliges member states to stop the spread of invasive wildlife. Click here to read more
Red Squirrel by Keith Cowieson
Bullfinch by Diana Gordon
"I Miss The Birds" By Caitlin Moran, The Times Magazine, 11th October 2014
'When I was a child, the dawn chorus was a sudden explosion of sheer creation joy. Now my garden is empty’
When I was a child, I lived in a world of birds – they filled the hedges, the trees, the skies, the lips under the roofs.
To step into the garden was to propel an indignant flurry of sparrows upwards, outwards, from their dust-bath – they would scold me like tiny parents, before returning. Click here to read more
Letter from SongBird Survival's Director in The Telegraph
20th January 2015
SIR – The French and Swiss are correct to be alarmed about very serious threat Italy’s expanding grey squirrel population poses to their native wildlife and commercial forestry.
In Britain, we have failed to recognise the magnitude of this threat and been too slow to respond. Researchers from the University of Sheffield found that the mere presence of grey squirrels was enough to reduce visits to garden bird feeders by 98 per cent.
The winter feeding of birds in gardens can make the difference between life and death for many species. The recent announcement that landowners would be rewarded for controlling grey squirrels is an important step in the right direction.
It is time for the Government to insist that agencies and NGOs in receipt of public funding follow suit and control grey squirrels on their land – or lose an element of state-funded support.
Director, SongBird Survival
Grey Squirrel attacking a bird feeder by Mark Harkin
A joined-up approach is needed to protect our lovely songbirds
EDP 17th January 2015
Robert Middleditch, Wrentham
Mr Jones (Letters, January 8) calls for “… common sense and an appreciation of nature’s ability to balance itself out …” in response to the recent letters on the issue of songbird decline.
While sparrowhawk predation of songbirds is an entirely natural process, what is not is the current unnatural abundance of many predatory and scavenging species in both our countryside and suburban environment.
For example, numbers of free-roaming domestic and feral cats, carrion crows and magpies have doubled over the last 40 years, coincident with the catastrophic crash in song and other small bird numbers. Add to this the explosion in numbers of non-native grey squirrels and now, increasingly, ring-necked parakeets, it can be appreciated how intolerable and sustained the pressure is upon our struggling songbird populations.
The former predate small bird’s eggs and nestlings and out-compete native songbirds for food. The latter out-compete small birds for food and nesting sites.
Absolute numbers aside, the fact is that populations of our much loved songbirds have decreased by more than 50% in the past 40 years due to a combination of habitat loss and degradation, associated shortage of food, and unprecedented levels of predation.
What is required to reverse this decline is a comprehensive approach that addresses each of these factors – neglect just one and the decline will continue. The farming community and National England are endeavouring through agri-environmental schemes to address the habitat loss and it is time that other organisations stepped up to the plate. However unpalatable predator control is to some, they will have to confront this difficult proposition.
Fail to act and it will not only be the turtle dove we lose. Mr Jones rightfully acknowledges human population growth, but there will never be a natural balance unless we go back to the Stone Age.
Millions of pounds of public money to pay for grey squirrel cull
The Forestry Commission has drawn up plans obliging landowners to rid their estates of grey squirrels
Rosa Silverman, Telegraph, January 2015
Landowners are to be paid millions of pounds of public money to cull grey squirrels under the first national plan for managing their numbers.
Click here to read more ....
Under the scheme, designed to protect red squirrels and woodland, only those who agree to deal with the animals on their land will be eligible for forestry grants from the Government or European Union.
But they will be able to apply for funding of £100 per hectare per year for five years to help them cull the squirrels using whatever method they prefer.
Statement from SongBird Survival
Songbird Survival absolutely deplores the actions of the gamekeeper on the Stody Estate in Norfolk, who has recently been sentenced in Court for poisoning several birds of prey.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the principle mechanism for the legal protection of wildlife in Great Britain, and everyone has a duty to respect this legislation.
Photo provided by Sam’s Pets, North Walsham
Donations Vital to
EDP, July 2014
I would like to take this opportunity of thanking Waitrose for their generosity in helping local charities, including the £340 presented to SongBird Survival.
We can assure everyone who has donated that every penny raised goes towards research to find out the reason why we are losing so many of our birds.
After working for all my life on the land I can see the population of our songbirds is decreasing. There will come a time when there will be hardly and birds left. As we go around talking about SongBird Survival people are realizing that we do have a problem. The items that we sell in our tabletop sales are donated by people so we would like to say a big thank you to them. If anyone has anything that they would like to donate they can contact us on 01692 400780.
We would also like to thank Cantley Sugarbeet Factory (British Sugar) for the wonderful prize that they have donated to us and also to our volunteers for their support, and also to Ian for his photography
"Stop the 'barbaric slaughter' of British songbirds: Prince Charles demands in private letter to head of Army base in Cyprus" The Daily Mail, March 2014
Prince Charles has demanded urgent action to stop the annual ‘barbaric slaughter’ of half a million migrating songbirds at a British Army base in Cyprus.
The creatures, familiar to millions of British gardens, often suffer for hours after being illegally snared in nets or on glue-coated sticks, before being killed and served up as a delicacy in Greek restaurants for £65 a plate. - To read more please click here
"If I Ruled The World ........"
Restoration of the dawn chorus in all its glory and diversity would be Keith Cowieson’s priority. Quality research into songbird predation is key ..... to read more please click here
"Songbirds numbers down. Predators up. So …. … if we want to hear the dawn chorus, we cannot avoid taking action." Nick Forde, The Times, January 2011
What has really happened to our farmland birds? Their numbers have fallen by 53 percent over 40 years even though we are now throwing £1 billion a year into conservation. Is this still due to a lack of money or to Man’s destruction of the environment – or could it be because of a systemic failure? ........ to read more please click here
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.
Click here to find out more……