What we do
Image: Andy Hay
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 invertebrates (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 De Montfort University study). A large-scale feeding experiment in London (RSPB study) has demonstrated the importance of invertebrates for the survival of young chicks. Through this project, we tested more natural ways to increase the numbers of invertebrates available to sparrows and other birds in our urban green spaces.
The London House Sparrow Parks Project tested different habitat management types in London parks with the aim of boosting invertebrate numbers and also seeds during the winter. This could benefit a host of urban birds, insects and other wildlife.
Reports have been submitted to the main project funders, and a PhD thesis has been submitted to Imperial College London, based on the results. Advisory sheets have been produced by RSPB on how to establish and maintain the tested habitat types. It is hoped that peer reviewed papers on the results of the project will be produced in due course. Most of the trial plots set up during the project are still being maintained by the project partners.
All three of the test habitat types increased numbers of invertebrates compared with the usual short grass found in parks. Invertebrate numbers were highest in the native wildflower meadows, although more pollinators (butterflies and bees) were attracted to the ‘wildlife seed’ plots. House sparrows however did not use the wildflower meadows - they preferred the wildlife seed plots. This is probably because the more open structure of the vegetation meant they could access the invertebrates in wildlife seed plots more easily. They used these plots almost entirely during the breeding season, and not for seed in winter.
Jacqueline WeirWoodland Biodiversity AdvisorE-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The following partner organisations worked with us to set up and manage the trial habitat plots:
The Royal Parks
Lee Valley Regional Park Authority
City of London
Wandsworth Borough Council
The project gratefully received funding from SITA Trust through the Landfill Communities Fund. Additional funding was supplied by Northern Trust, ICB-Diadem, The London Natural History Society, Edward Harvist Trust, and individual donors - especially John Vail.