Wild bird numbers in decline

WILD bird populations in eastern England have continued to decline - despite multi-million pound conservation schemes, according to the latest Government data.

WILD bird populations in eastern England have continued to decline - despite multi-million pound conservation schemes, according to the latest Government data.

They show that farmland bird species in the region fell by 9% from 1994- 2002 and there was a reduction in woodland species by 6% over the same period.

Spotted flycatcher and willow warbler fared particularly badly while there were also declines in grey partridge, kestrel, turtle dove, yellow hammer, corn bunting, reed bunting, skylark and starling.

However, some species bucked the trend, including the wood pigeon, stock dove, jackdaw, greenfinch, woodlark, buzzard and the Dartford warbler, which is now strong along part of the Suffolk coast.


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Nationally the new bird statistics report - published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) - shows that the overall wild bird population was stable up to 2002 following years of decline.

It also reveals a north-south divide with birds doing better in the north of England and Scotland than in the south.

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Chris Durdin, RSPB spokesman in East Anglia, said the reason for the decline in farmland birds was better known that that for woodland birds which was "a bit of a mystery".

"We do have concern about the species that are declining and factors outside our control may be part of it.

"But we also have to accept there are natural cycles and until we're clear there is a man-induced problem conservationists should not be crying wolf, bearing in mind some populations are going upwards," he added.

Mr Durdin said conservationists were optimistic about the impact of the new agri-environment scheme being introduced next year by DEFRA and which should get most farmers involved.

The existing Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) and Countryside Stewardship schemes will be amalgamated into the new system.

Dougall McNeill, ESA adviser for DEFRA, said there was a target to reverse the decline in farmland birds by 2020.

"The conservation work undertaken by farmers within our agri-environment schemes plays an important part in achieving this target," he said.

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