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Gardens 'vital' for some of our most threatened birds

Last modified: 28 March 2013

Male house sparrow in bush

Image: Steve Round

Some of the UK’s most threatened and best-loved bird species are continuing to decline, according to results from the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch survey 2013, released today.

Starlings, a UK ‘red-listed’ species meaning it is of the highest conservation concern, hit an all-time low in the Birdwatch last year and their numbers sunk by a further 16 per cent in gardens this year. 

Numbers of house sparrows, also on the red-list, dropped by 17 per cent in gardens compared to 2012, whilst bullfinches and dunnocks, both amber-listed, fell by 20 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. 

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said; ”We know from the many people who take part in Big Garden Birdwatch every year that garden birds are incredibly precious to us  and connect us to nature every day.  I had the joy of doing the Birdwatch with my children again this year and, fidgeting aside, it was one of those memorable mornings when the family is captivated by nature.  But, several of our familiar and best-loved species have been declining at alarming rates over the 34 years that the RSPB has been running the Birdwatch and this year’s results show a continuing decline.  

“We go to great lengths to ensure that special UK habitats are given the right levels of designation and legal protection because of their role in supporting threatened wildlife, but what’s very clear is that every one of our gardens, the places literally on our doorsteps, are important too.”

Almost 590,000 people across the UK, including 75,000 pupils and teachers at schools, took part in the Birdwatch in January.   

Whilst the decline of some species continued, others fared better with garden sightings of siskins, fieldfares and jays up by as much as 85 per cent.  The cold, harsh conditions in the wider countryside back in January is likely to have driven more of these birds into gardens on their search for food.  Last year saw a particularly bad crop of acorns, a favourite among jays, meaning these birds are likely to have visited gardens more than normal during the winter to find alternative food sources.

Martin continued; “Gardens make up around 4 per cent of land area in the UK and their role as habitats for our wildlife is clear.  They are the places that birds come to for food and shelter when conditions in the countryside are especially tough and together, we can all play a part in making them more welcoming and supportive for wildlife, whether we have a garden full of greenery, a yard or a window box.”

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