Operation Tree Sparrow

The project works with farmers in areas of north-west England which hold populations of tree sparrows.

Tree sparrow Passer montanus, perched on small branch


2004 saw the launch of Operation Tree Sparrow in the north-west of England. A project designed to halt the decline of this once-common farmland bird. Between 1970 and 2006, its numbers had dropped by a massive 93 per cent.
The project looked at 11 areas where this bird was known to be holding its own and invited farmers in those areas to join us and help reverse the tree sparrow's fortunes.
Since then RSPB staff and volunteers have worked with these farmers providing seed for winter feeding stations and nestboxes and many farmers have gone on to do more through the stewardship schemes.
Participating farms and farms in the wider hotspot areas have received RSPB advice on how to deliver longer term beneficial land management for tree sparrows and other farmland birds. They also received information as to how the Natural England 'Environmental Stewardship Scheme' can help fund this land management. Many of the farms are now providing habitats through this scheme which will provide winter and summer food for tree sparrows. 
Volunteers have been helping put out food, and have been undertaking monitoring on the farms.


  • To halt and reverse the decline of tree sparrow and other seed eating farmland birds.
  • Support and assist farmers who want to help do more to conserve the wildlife and habitats on their farms.

Planned Work

Working with 63 farmers throughout Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, and Lancashire. 53 of the farms are now providing seed-rich crops through the stewardship schemes with supplementary feeding is continuing on the remaining 10 farms. More than 1,000 nestboxes will be checked and monitored annually.


Flocks of up to 60 tree sparrows have been recorded using a feeding station in Lancashire. 

In Cumbria, areas of wild bird cover - a type of Stewardship land management that creates patches of seed-rich crop - have had more than 100 tree sparrows and 50 yellowhammers feeding in them.


Natural England and the RSPB have joined forces to combine their conservation expertise and scientific research under a new programme called Action for Birds in England. This innovative partnership programme will harness around £1 million a year to develop understanding, improve protection and work for the recovery of England’s most threatened birds. 
The programme supports over twenty projects including research into the reasons for the decline in farmland and woodland birds, surveys to provide the best information on population trends and cutting edge work to restore numbers of birds which have suffered population declines. 
The work builds on the experience gained by Natural England and the RSPB in some of the best examples of successful recovery and re-introduction projects including red kites, cirl buntings and stone-curlews and ground-breaking research into the impact of agriculture on birds which has led directly to changes in agriculture policy.


Coast on a stormy day

Carol Coupe

Farmland Bird Project Officer, RSPB

Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Farmland Species: Tree sparrow Project status: Ongoing Project types: Advocacy Project types: Species protection