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Saving the Dawn Chorus for Tomorrow

The Issue
Song Thrush

Lesser Redpoll down 89%
Tree Sparrow down 96%
Bullfinch down 45%
Songthrush down 50%
Skylark down 63%

Whether you live in a city, a leafy suburb, or out in the country, you will be aware that the dawn chorus is but a whisper of what it used to be as the songbird population has declined in almost all areas over the last thirty six years.

What has happened?

The whole of the environment of Great Britain is effectively man-made. We feel we have a responsibility to ensure that the environment is managed for the benefit of all our flora and fauna.

SongBird Survival was set up because a number of people identified a major flaw in the UK's management policy for songbirds.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when songbirds were still numerous, careful management of predators by farmers, gamekeepers, smallholders and estate managers produced a stable population of songbirds.

When predators reached pest proportions they were reduced but when numbers were low it was simply not worthwhile spending time and materials removing them from the environment. None of the predators were eliminated entirely.

The intensification of agriculture, especially in arable areas, had three major consequences for wildlife:

Loss Of Habitat (Feeding Areas & Nest Sites)

HedgerowsLoss of habitat included:

Removal of hedgerows
Major reduction of permanent pasture in arable areas
Reclamation of 'redundant' marsh land
Increases in the proportion of winter crops (sown in the autumn)
Intensification of livestock production

BUT in the last 10 years farmland habitat has improved. For example:

New hedges totalling 40,000km (24,800 miles) planted (Farmers spend £16m per annum maintaining them)

Woodland cover now 100% greater than in 1920 (5% more than in 1990 since when farmers planted more than 87 million trees)

Countryside Stewardship and other schemes totalling over one million hectares (2.47 million acres) and increasing

Uptake of LEAF practices (Linking Environment And Farming)

Arable land (minimum 10%) in set-a-side 

Organic conversion

13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) of cereal field margins in positive wildlife friendly management. i.e. they are richer in plant species than previously.

Yet populations of many songbirds continue to decline

Widespread Use Of Pesticides

Crop SprayerThe word 'pesticide' embraces a very wide range of chemical compounds for the control of an equally wide range of pests from fungi to weeds and as plant desiccants. They are used for efficient agricultural production and are now subject to extremely strict regulations.
The use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and similar compounds in the past led to accumulation in birds and most dramatically in raptors causing a substantial decrease in populations of some species. Consequently the offending compounds were withdrawn and legislation introduced giving protection to all raptors. Populations of sparrowhawks subsequently increased enormously and heavy penalties remain in force for anyone controlling them.

The use of herbicides (weedkillers) while having no direct effect on birdlife, reduces the food supply for some species, either in the form of weed seeds or insects living on weeds. We accept that agriculture should have effective means of controlling weed populations in order to remain viable and produce wholesome food. We also believe that it is essential for part of the rural landscape to be used for the maintenance of biodiversity. See previous section (above) for initiatives already in place.

With the possible exception of slug pellets, there are no direct deleterious effects from the use of other agrochemicals on birdlife when they are used correctly

Progressively Less Control Of Predators

SparrowhawkThat populations of many predators have increased in the last 20 years or so is not in dispute. The reasons for the increase are not always clear-cut. For instance, some are protected by legislation, others are not. While some, such as the sparrowhawk occur widely over the UK others are more localised.

The sparrowhawk, magpie and fox have quickly become less wary of man and continue moving into the urban environment, badgers are expanding their range and beginning to colonise urban locations while mink remain in rural areas.

Similarly, the effects on populations of songbirds vary according to their preferred location, food and nesting sites.

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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