DEFRA has today published its latest report on how badly it is doing in conserving bird populations.
The graphs above show the individual values for each year of the aggregated population levels for groups of birds by habitat. So the dotted lines go up and down from year to year. The solid lines show the statistically smoothed trends (there is no smoothed trend for seabirds, and the graph above has the label for the green lines (woodland) missed off). You can pick and choose whether you look at the individual data points or the smoothed overall trends (and it’s good that both are presented so that one can eyeball the goodness of fit of one to the other).
I’m just looking at the graphs as above, and my eyesight tells me that:
- the smoothed farmland bird index is at its lowest point ever (since 1970)
- the smoothed woodland bird index (the green one that isn’t labelled) is at its lowest point ever (since 1970)
- the seabird index (no smoothed line) is at or very close to its lowest point ever (since 1970)
- the smoothed waterbird index is close to but slightly higher than its lowest point ever (since 1970)
- the smoothed all birds index is at its lowest point ever (since 1970)
That is a terrible record for governments of all shades of colour, and in all parts of the UK, but there is nothing for the Coalition or Conservative governments, who have been running the show in England since 2010, to take from this utterly damning indictment of their conservation and agricultural policy.
It is possible to dive into the figures to find the odd piece of good news (many of which are there because of the efforts of, let’s be fair, mostly the RSPB on species such as Bittern) but if you are looking at the big picture then the big picture is as gloomy as a foggy, drizzly November day.
I look forward to all media channels quizzing the parties on their record of achievement and their plans for a glorious future. It’s a dire situation but one which is now largely ignored by politicians and the media.
I know that the BTO gets a lot of its funding from DEFRA, and I know that Andy Clements is on NE’s Board, but I was gobsmacked to receive the BTO press release on this subject claiming that …
… and in which Dr David Noble, Principal Ecologist at the BTO, said,
Despite a wide range of pressures continuing to affect many of our UK bird populations, and driving declines in many of our habitat specialists, there are a few positive stories where species could be responding to more nature-friendly management and spreading northward to suitable landscapes.
Just look at the farmland bird graph above and then read what the BTO say about it…
It will come as no surprise that our farmland birds are not doing very well at all but there are signs of recovery here too. The long-term picture is still pretty grim, with 62% of the species monitored, 19 in all, showing a decline. However, the short-term picture is more positive with 32% of farmland bird species showing an increase in their populations, 42% stable and 26% falling between 2012 and 2018.
Now look at the farmland bird graph again – it goes down, steadily down; down, down, down. And it’s at its lowest point ever. If more species have increased than decreased recently, then for the graph to fall, the decreases must have been quite a bit bigger decreases than the increases!
The trouble with bending over backwards to find a shred of good news is that you get into some ridiculous postures and just look foolish. Not even DEFRA, in their report, try as hard as the BTO to find good news here.
One wonders whether this report was ready to go a while ago but surely it must be just chance that it is published in a period of purdah when DEFRA could not comment on it. Just chance, surely (remember these are the data from 2018 not 2019!)? How handy to have the BTO around to put an unbelievable positive spin on these data.
As one of the people (one of thousands) who has collected the data that make up these graphs I’m beginning to wonder whether I should bother. I expect DEFRA not to give a damn about the decline in birds (and live in hope that that might change) but if the BTO can’t called a massive decline a massive decline then, honestly, what is the point?
NOTE: the BTO have offered to send me a Guest Blog on this subject (which is very nice of them).