Twiglet: Trees are farmers’ best friends


At the turn of the 20th Century in France, many flowering trees, such as hawthorn and whitebeam, were protected by law.

This was because the authorities knew that birds, which relied on the energy-rich autumnal fruits, would lay seige to springtime insects, which would otherwise damage crops.

Natural approach that delivered a safe, simple and cheap biological control.

France has had the right attitude towards trees for more than a century, yet in the UK the battle to recognise the importance of trees goes on.

Urban tree loss hitting sparrow populations


The population of house sparrows in Britain has fallen by 68% in the past three decades, according to the RSPB.

A report by the charity said the paving over of front gardens and removal of trees had caused a big decline in insects which the birds eat.

It suggests that sparrows are now disappearing altogether from cities such as London, Bristol and Edinburgh, the BBC News website reports.

Dr Will Peach, from the RSPB, said many gardens had become “no-go areas for once-common British birds”.

Scientists from the RSPB joined forces with De Montfort University and Natural England to investigate the decline of the house sparrow.

They studied numbers in Leicester over a three-year period and found that they fell by nearly a third.

Dr Peach said every pair of house sparrows must raise at least five chicks a year to maintain the population, but many were starving to death in their nests or were too weak to live long after fledging.

The study did find that chick survival was higher in areas where insects, such as aphids, were more abundant.

Dr Peach said: “Peanuts and seeds are great for birds for most of the year, but sparrows need insects in summer – and lots of them – to feed their hungry young.

“Honeysuckle, wild roses, hawthorn or fruit trees are perfect for insects and therefore house sparrows.

“The trend towards paving of front gardens and laying decking in the back, and the popularity of ornamental plants from other parts of the world, has made many gardens no-go areas for once common British birds.”

He said gardeners could help sparrows by “being lazy, doing nothing and allowing the garden to be a little bit scruffy”.

The study, published in the journal Animal Conservation, concluded that the decline in house sparrows in Britain began in the mid-1980s.

In London, numbers fell by 60% between 1994 and 2004.

The house sparrow has been added to the list of species identified by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as in need of greater protection.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 20/11/2008

UK woodland birds ‘in decline’


The latest Breeding Bird Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, has highlighted a significant decline in woodland bird species, writes the woodlands.co.uk blog.

It says that the annual survey has revealed numbers down by more than 50% in several species, the worst hit being the willow tit down by 77%.

The reason for the decline is not obvious, the blog adds.

“It isn’t due to loss of habitat – there is more woodland in the UK today than there has ever been, and, on the whole, modern woodland management is more sympathetic to environmental concerns.

“The Farm Woodland Scheme and Farm Woodland Premium Scheme have also encouraged the planting of small woodlands.”

It suggests the fall in breeding woodland bird species may be the result of a change to the composition and structure of the UK’s woodlands.

“Traditional methods of management such as coppicing provide a perfect habitat for warblers and nightingales, for instance,” woodlands.co.uk reports.

“The coppicing process whereby the wood is regularly cut back creates open woodland with plenty of undergrowth for nesting. Where coppice is left to grow unchecked, eventually the canopy closes and the undergrowth is shaded out.

“Mature woodland with a closed canopy supports tree-dwelling birds such as the woodpecker, but offers a less diverse selection of species overall.”

The blog highlights a possible connection between the fall in bird numbers and the growing population of deer: “Many woodland species like the woodland edges and open areas where there is shrubby, low-level cover.

“An explosion in the number of deer in the UK has had a noticeable impact on just this sort of habitat through grazing at the herb and low shrub level. It is quite likely that this is making a serious impact on woodland bird numbers.”

Migration has also been suggested as a factor.

Several British woodland birds, such as the wood warbler, are annual summer visitors that overwinter in sub-Saharan Africa. It has been suggested that drought in that region may be having an effect.

Citing studies in the Netherlands, the blog post by Catherine also suggested that reduction of habitat quality through traffic noise from nearby roads could have significantly affected local woodland bird populations.

Source: woodlands.co.uk

Date: 22/08/2008

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