Bring in the bunting…

In amidst all that buzzard-bothering nonsense of the last couple of weeks an important restatement of the absolutely obvious was made: farmland birds have declined steeply and there is no obvious redemption in sight.

The most recent science on the subject was a report produced from national bird monitoring schemes across Europe, including the UK, by the European Bird Census Council. About 300 million birds have been lost from the European countryside (in just the countries contributing to this report) and the UK is reported to be one of the worst offenders.

In the Daily Telegraph the NFU’s Diane Mitchell seems to try to mudddy the waters by suggesting that declines of farmland birds on farmland may not be that much to do with farming.  And anyway, it’s only the specialists that are declining – the skylarks, grey partridges, turtle doves, tree sparrows etc etc

Meanwhile, NFU President, the overwhelmingly re-elected farmers’ choice to be their mouthpiece, called for ‘super farms’ and a ‘complete rethink’ in the face of climate change and weather shocks.

, via Wikimedia Commons”]Those 300 million missing birds include ortolan buntings, yellowhammers, corn bunting (particularly in the UK) etc  No need for bunting in this Diamond Jubilee year then?

I expect that the NFU’s preferred explanation for the loss of buntings is that the French have eaten them.  It is certainly true, apparently, that President Mitterand’s last meal included eating an illegal ortolan buntings (or two – it is rumoured!).  Imagine the dying French President breathing deeply, towel over his balding head, leaning over a bowl with ortolan in it  – all the better to absorb the full aroma which adds to the flavour.

Maybe we can take our revenge on the farmland-bird eating French by whipping their Gallic derrieres when we meet on the field of battle.  Cry ‘God for England, Harry and the ortolan!‘.




13 Replies to “Bring in the bunting…”

  1. First year in my life that I have not seen a corn bunting in Fife !! Skylark numbers are seriously low as well !
    Have 12 pairs of tree sparrows nesting at home though.
    Maybe if the effort put into protecting raptors was doubled into protecting none raptors things could be different ?

    1. Andy – as i suspect you know perfectly well – the effort put into conserving non-raptors far outstrips that put intp raptors. unfortunately there is >£2bn going into agricultuiral payments that don’t do nearly enough to conserve corn buntings, skylarks etc

  2. Hi Mark,am struggling with my thoughts at the moment,maybe you would comment.I love seeing raptors but was very surprised that on Springwatch last night evidence that Peregrines in towns take occasional rare birds like Woodcock,Corncrake and Water Rail,now I know that is small number but when rare even small numbers are important and of course would these Peregrines be there if nest boxes not provided and food that keeps them there the feral pigeon and of course it was said they caught these at night with town light.Another concern if anywhere near correct is Robin Poole’s figure in Telegragh saying the equivalent of 88 million sparrows taken each year just by Sparrowhawks.I also wonder if all these small bird nest boxes are really helping small birds as we feed them all winter keeping probably a higher population than would otherwise occur,provide lots of nesting opportunities with boxes but of course there are only the same amount at best of the insects to feed young and incredible numbers of Blue Tit chicks in particular seem to die in boxes.
    Feel sure you would have some answers but even if I am wrong on all these thoughts we should question if what we are doing is working.

    1. Dennis, I would treat 88 million sparrows being eaten by sparrowhawks with a very very large pinch of salt. We have less than 4 million breeding pairs. Even if the article (and I haven’t read it) is trying to equate amount of meat eaten by BoP then that would be a bit like saying every 1000 worms eaten by a buzzard equals one pheasant poult.

    2. Dennis, there are places elsewhere in Europe (and elsewhere in the world) where, for various reasons, birds of prey are more numerous and more diverse than here. According to the reasoning of those who think that ‘restoring the balance’ means keeping raptor numbers as low as possible, these places should be pretty much devoid of small birds but it just isn’t the case as the same places are generally also rich in song birds (it makes sense if you think about it – if there is nothing for the BoP to eat there won’t be many of them and vice versa). I don’t think you need to worry therefore about peregrines in towns, or sparrowhawks – however, many birds they actually eat per year. I think we can say with great confidence that predation by peregrines is not the cause of the rarity of the corncrake or a significant factor preventing it from recovering.

  3. Dennis, the answer is simple – these species have got rare because of exactly what Mark is on about – they are the ‘sharp end’ of declining populations. Trying to save Black Grouse in Wales, with just 50 odd lekking males left we were acutely aware that at this level Goshawk predation could tip the balance because it only would take the loss of maybe half a dozen birds to keep the downward spiral going. The other end of the spectrum are places like Ham Wall (RSPB)/ Shapwick (NE) where with bitterns we are starting to get a hint of how things once were – and its not just a numbers game, the whole way the Bitterns behave with prolonged coutship flights, almost certain sightings on any visit and stacks of (competitive) booming, is a complete revelation for people of my generation, brought up on waiting hours for a lucky glimpse at Minsmere.

    More generally, on Peter Kendal’s enthusiasm for super farms I’ve felt for a very long time that we have a spectacular problem with the way ethics and morality have lost out to technology & economics in farming – and in a lot of other areas of life. Even when I was at University (studying Agricultural Science) the question ‘where does this stop ?’ was in the air: then we’d been through DDT, the realisation that feeding pigs antibiotics as feed supplements was flashing back to resistance to antibiotics used for human illness was just dawning, BSE and so on was all in the future. Resistances are apparently already building up around GM crops but far more seriously when we’re told it’s all perfectly safe, what’s the answer when some whizz kid accidentally crashes the US Maize crop and the world starves ? Is ‘our duty is to our shareholders’ going to be good enough ? You can’t print Maize like you can money, and as Fukishima confirmed, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

  4. Dennis,
    The answer is “Yes” the peregrines would still be in towns if nestboxes weren’t provided because many pairs breeding in towns don’t breed in nestboxes. Here in Cardiff our peregrines breed on the city hall clock tower without a nest box. I’ve found the remains of woodcock, teal, and golden plover on the lawns around the buildings but these are far out weighed by the remains of city pigens, magpies, woodpigeons and smaller birds.

  5. As soon as I saw the bit about the Peregrines last night I thought hey ho, wait for the knee-jerk from Col Retiredandemotional of Songbird Survival. “Control the dashed Peregrines why don’t they? Something Has To Be Done. Harrumph.” But this is entirely the wrong way to approach it. As said on the programme, it is the result of migrants being lit from beneath at night, which makes them vulnerable to predation. The solution then is simple and one many people are becoming aware of at the moment: reduce light pollution. As British Sea Power sang, Lights Out For Darker Skies. It’s a man-made problem, but as usual the response in this zoophobic country will be to want to kill something instead.

  6. Peter– has that happened yet from Col Retiredandemotional of Songbird Survival.

  7. BOP are not limiting songbirds just as most keepers are not limiting BOP !
    Agricultural practice in my view is 100% to blame along with the clowns whom supervise the grant systems.

    1. Andy – very carefully worded! BoP are not limiting songbirds but some gamekeepers are limiting BOP!

  8. Andy obviously thinks that him and 60 million others using all the fuels creating massive pollution has no effect at all,dream on then wake up.

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