London House Sparrow Parks Project
House sparrow numbers have dropped nationally over the last 25 years (BTO various data). In Greater London they declined by 68 % between 1994 and 2009 (BTO Breeding Bird Survey data) - and sparrows are now absent from many areas of central London where they were once common.
Recent research has shown house sparrows in urban areas suffer from a lack of insects to feed their young. This was shown by a study in Leicester, where poor condition and death of young chicks was linked to low numbers of invertebrates in their diet (RSPB and and De Montfort University study).
A large scale feeding experiment in London (RSPB study, ongoing) has demonstrated that insects are important for the survival of young chicks. Through this project, we hope to find more natural ways to increase the numbers of insects available to sparrows and other birds in our urban green spaces.
The London House Sparrow Parks Project is trialling different habitat management types in London parks with the aim of boosting invertebrate numbers. The habitat plots should also provide seed during the winter, and could benefit a host of urban birds, insects and other wildlife.
The project has been running for two years and will soon be entering its final summer, with a lot of work still to be done. After the analysis, we want to tell as many people as we can what we’ve found; but we’re going to need more funding to do this.
If you can help, please send a donation [cheques payable to the RSPB] to Jacqueline Weir, London House Sparrow Parks Project, 2nd Floor, 65 Petty France, London, SW1H 9EU.
- To test which of the following habitat management types benefit house sparrows and other species the most:
- - long grass (left to set seed over winter)
- - native wildflower meadows (with traditional haymeadow management)
- - 'Wildlife seed plots' (based on wild bird cover options of the Environmental Stewardship Scheme for farmland).
- To provide advice to parks across London and the UK, based on the results
- To raise awareness of the problems facing urban wildlife and encourage people to consider wildlife in local parks and their own gardens
Key dates so far
- 25 trial plots (and corresponding 'control' plots of normal park management) have been set up in 19 parks across London
- The first two years of monitoring have been completed and the third and final year is underway (monitoring bird, insect and seed numbers)
- A team of 25 dedicated volunteers is helping to monitor bird use of the plots
- Public engagement events have been carried out in many of the parks; newsletters and leaflets have been produced; and an education sheet is being developed.
Work planned or underway
During the summer, the Project Officer and a Research Assistant are doing surveys of breeding house sparrow populations in and around our project parks, and monitoring the insects found in the trial plots.
Use of the trial plots by birds is monitored all year round both by staff and a dedicated team of monitoring volunteers.
In the autumn we will do our final round of monitoring the plots for seeds. Then the hard work of bringing together and analysing all the results begins in earnest!
We have collected data for the first year of the project on house sparrow breeding numbers, bird use of the trial plots, insect numbers and diversity in the plots, and the amount of seed the plots provide. Data entry and analysis of this is currently underway. The project is running for three years, so we won’t know the overall results for a while, but we’ll provide updates as the results start to come together.
Who to contact
Woodland Biodiversity Advisor
We’ve been working with the following partner organisations to set up and manage the trial habitat plots:
- The Royal Parks
- Lee Valley Regional Park Authority
- City of London
- Wandsworth Borough Council
- Islington Council
- Southwark Council
- Camden Council
- Sutton Council
The project has gratefully received funding from SITA Trust through the Landfill Communities Fund. Additional funding has been supplied by Northern Trust and ICB Diadem.
We are now getting close to the end of the project and starting to bring together all our results. We then want to share the results as widely as possible.
In order to do this we are going to need more funding. Please send any donations, made payable to RSPB, to: The London House Sparrow Parks Project, 2nd floor 65 Petty France, London SW1H 9EU.