The Annual Breeding Bird Survey, compiled by the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology and government advisers, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), has revealed an alarming decline in many bird populations and points the finger of blame at current farming techniques. The most seriously affected species from 1994-1999 was the grey partridge, whose numbers fell by some 43% in five years, although other bird populations have been similarly affected, the report, released on 20 November, shows.

The conservation groups blame the introduction of autumn planting of wheat and barley for robbing birds of the stubble fields which helped to sustain them through the winter. Herbicides and insecticides are also to blame – the latter is responsible for the decline in grey partridge numbers whose chicks depend on insects living on crops.

Information collected by birdwatchers on 217 species found that several other farmland and other bird populations had decreased worryingly between 1994-1999, including populations of: the willow tit (down by 42%), the shelduck (40%), the redshank (36%), the kestrel (30%) the bullfinch (28%) and the corn bunting (26%).

“The threat of disappearance of some species on a local scale is already with us,” RSPB spokesperson, Mike Everett told edie. “This report gives us no pluses for farmland birds which face continual decline in numbers due to the intensification of farming.” Everett added that two of the species with the biggest decline in populations, the shelduck and the redshank are not farmland birds and their decline is, at present, a mystery.

Some species, such as the grey partridge, whose numbers have fallen by 75% in the last 20 years, have now been included on the UK’s Red List, highlighting species that have been reduced in numbers by at least 50%. The Government, however, in August pledged to take action to stabilise farmland bird populations, but is yet to put any concrete plans in place, Everett said.

Among the 35 bird species which have actually increased since 1994 are the goldcrest (up 61%), the wren, woodpecker and redstart (all up 42%). The wood pigeon, swallow, greenfinch and goldfinch are amongst the species whose populations are stable.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie