Yesterday’s blog considered an interesting report by gamekeepers about the state of the countryside and today’s blog is about a slightly dull report by the BTO, RSPB and the JNCC about the state of breeding bird populations in the countryside. Yesterday’s report was based on a questionnaire survey whereas this one is based on tens of thousands of hours of fieldwork by gifted amateurs (I am a gifted amateur myself, in this context) and hundreds (I guess) hours of analysis and writing by gifted professionals. And it is a bit dull.
I can’t help but point out that yesterday’s blog highlighted the slightly surprising number of shoots which claim to have lesser-spotted woodpeckers (56%), turtle doves (33%), hawfinches (9%) and bitterns (8%) and these figures are rather high compared with the proportion of BBS squares on which the species are present (1%, 3%, 0.1% and 0.1% respectively). Let me hasten to point out that these figures are not directly comparable – the BBS figures come from two breeding-season visits in one year to randomly chosen 1km squares whereas the shooting estate figures may cover much larger areas, many more observers, over an unspecified period of time and including waifs and strays. So the figures aren’t directly comparable – but nonetheless the differences between them are perhaps instructive as to the value of the different approaches.
The reason that this report is a bit dull is that it merely confirms what we know, and have known for years now, that many farmland birds have declined hugely since (since any time you want to choose almost!) the Breeding Bird Survey started in 1994 and things aren’t getting much better. In England, skylarks, corn buntings, starlings, yellowhammers, turtle doves, yellow wagtails, grey partridges and linnets are all much below their 1994 population levels though, to be fair, reed bunting, whitethroat, tree sparrow and lapwing have either increased or stayed about level during this period. We knew all this though.
And woodland birds are doing badly – tree pipit, willow tit, marsh tit, nightingale, lesser redpoll and pied and spotted flycatchers have all taken a clobbering although great-spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, blackcap and chiffchaff have done well. We did, mostly, know this though.
And red kites and buzzards are getting much commoner whilst kestrels are rarer. We knew that too.
The cuckoo deserves a special mention though – a 64% decline in England since 1994, and that pattern is pretty consistent over all regions of England according to the very helpful Table 8 near the back of the report. That pattern is well known too though.
Pretty dull stuff, eh? Nooooooooooo!
We should rage against the fact that these figures have become familiar and yet too little is being done to make things better for those declining species of farmland and woodland. It’s not as though we don’t know the reasons for the declines in farmland birds – it’s the way we farm! And it’s not as though we can’t reverse those declines without causing povery and famine across the world – it’s been done at Hope Farm and at Loddington – and maybe on your farm too if you are a farmer reading this blog. And it’s not as though there is no money going into the countryside which is supposed to make things better – hundreds of millions of pounds are spent every year, and I want my money back if government doesn’t get better at spending it please. Come on Defra – pull your finger out and make the Entry Level Scheme an effective way to save nature in the countryside. Don’t talk to me about my role in Big Society – I’ve done my bit giving you these figures year after year after year after year. Let’s see Government doing its bit and making sure my money works for wildlife.