On March 7th 1997 a hill farm conservation day was held on the North Wales farm of John Pugh. At this meeting concerns were raised about the alarming decline in songbird numbers which coincided with a large surge in predator numbers.
It was apparent that no established group was prepared to tackle this problem, and so several people who attended that farm open day decided to form a group under the guidance of Keith Pulman.
This group formed a limited company called Songbird Survival Action Group, which achieved charitable status on September 26th 2001, as SongBird Survival. The Chief Executive of the charity was one of its founding members Keith Pulman, who steered the charity in its formative years until early 2004.
Whilst there was only a trickle of new members at the start, this was greatly increased by a Norfolk Trustee, Antonia Macpherson, who started a very strong East Anglian branch of SongBird Survival.
On February 8th 2004 Clive Sherwood became Chairman of the Trustees, and it was decided to move the headquarters from Bristol to East Anglia, where the 12th Council meeting of the Trustees was held on a temporary basis at Holkham.
A more permanent office was then kindly offered to the charity by Antonia and Ian Macpherson in their home at Blofield.
SongBird Survival remained at Blofield until the end of 2005 when the Trustees decided due to its growing size it needed to obtain its own office, and we moved to our current office at Diss.Still small, the membership numbered around 800 individuals; many of whom were known to the Trustees. A new Policy Director, Keith McDougall was employed and part time staff to man the office.
In 2006 the first funded research on predation was published. Although this report by Professor Roy Brown was not peer reviewed; the basic data showed the first indications of a problem for birds from Cats and Grey Squirrels.
That same year SBS merged with the Scottish charity Save our Songbirds. The aims of both organisations were almost identical and with the joint Trustees and membership (now at 1200 members) the charity was really starting to grow.
In 2007 the Trustees and Policy Director arranged further research to be commissioned and these were peer reviewed and published in 2010.
SBS felt it was appropriate that it should examine the main BTO databases; the Common Bird Census and Breeding Bird Survey which are the largest databases of birds in Europe. So the first study investigated the impact of eight predators on twenty nine prey species.
It found a significant negative effect of the sparrowhawk on four species, in particular the tree sparrow, whose numbers have fallen 96%. It is worrying that in our heavily managed environment one native species could be threatening another native species with extinction. The paper also raised concern on the effect of the kestrel on several species.
However it was unable to detect an impact either of corvids or on twenty two of the prey species and the Reading University study, published subsequently, does highlight the limitations of this type of research.
The second study was by the University of Reading; who were commissioned to conduct the first ever review of the quality of all avian predation research in the UK to date.
It cast grave doubts on the credibility of past research into the impact of predation on songbirds, which SongBird Survival has for a long time harboured such suspicions and this study entirely vindicates this concern.
The research showed that a study’s outcome was strongly influenced by the quality and quantity of the data on predators upon which it was based. It also confirmed that the best studies are fully experimental and highlighted the limitations of correlative analyses of observational data bases.
It also confirmed that no fully experimental study of songbird predation had ever been carried out in the UK.
In 2010 the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) were approached to conduct a fully experimental multi-site study on crows and magpies. SBS have funded this research which is currently in its third year.
In 2012 Keith McDougall retired from Policy Director and now enjoys a more relaxed voluntary role in his own time. It was in this year that Lord Vinson, a long-time supporter of the charity, donated funds to enable a new full time Director, Keith Cowieson, to be employed to help and support the Trustees and carry the now 1700 strong membership to greater heights.
2013 is proving to be an exciting year with many ideas and possible directions to take. Watch this space!