Cuckoo joins list of most threatened birds

THE cuckoo's call has long signalled the start of spring - but now one of the best known sounds of the Suffolk countryside is officially at risk.

Lizzie Parry

THE cuckoo's call has long signalled the start of spring - but now one of the best known sounds of the Suffolk countryside is officially at risk.

Cuckoos have become so rare they have joined the “red list” of the most threatened birds in the UK.

In 13 years, from 1994 to 2007, their numbers have declined by 57% in the East, highlighting the concern that many long-distance migratory birds nesting in Europe and wintering in Africa are increasingly in trouble.

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The latest nationwide figures are detailed in Birds of Conservation Concern 3, an assessment by a partnership of wildlife organisations. It shows that of the UK's 246 regularly occurring birds 52 are now of the highest conservation concern, on the “red list”.

In East Anglia familiar birds including the lapwing, yellow wagtail, and dunlin are facing threat.

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Of concern is the continued widespread decline of farmland birds, yellow wagtails and lapwings, or “peewits” as they are commonly known, a theme that has developed since the last set of results in 2002.

For the first time winter-visiting birds such as the dunlin, common to the Stour and Orwell estuaries has also joined the “red list”.

However, it is not all bad news, the recent figures reveal several local species have seen an improvement in population numbers.

The stone-curlew, 70% of which occur in Suffolk, the Brecks and small areas of north Norfolk, has been removed from the red list.

This is due to efforts by farmers and landowners to improve the fortunes of this wading bird.

Simon Tonkin, RSPB farmland conservation officer RSPB, said: “Farmers have been working with the RSPB to help reverse the declining numbers of stone-curlews for 25 years now and these farmers should all be congratulated for their important work.

“This isn't a time for complacency, however. We need to continue to make habitat specific to these birds available to ensure numbers keep improving.”

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's Conservation Director, added: “Most shocking is the more recently-observed and drastic decline of summer-visiting birds, typified by the cuckoo.

“However away from the doom and gloom, some birds, like the stone-curlew and the woodlark, are currently doing well.

“Thanks to a successful partnership between conservationists and landowners, the future for these birds looks more secure, at least for the moment.”

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