Back from the Brink. No 12

Tree Sparrow: (photo: John Robinson)

This is the twelfth in a series of articles highlighting some of the remarkable success stories achieved by the RSPB through their work to save some of Britain's rarest birds.

This dashing sparrow is yet another example of a species that was once widespread in the UK but has recently undergone a major decline. Between 1970 and 1998 this decline was estimated at a staggering 95%. The present distribution is patchy, with populations in some areas doing quite well. However, these 'localised successes' mask the vulnerability of the species, which is largely absent from many areas of the UK.

It is thought that the recent large decline is due to agricultural intensification and specialisation, particularly so the increased use of herbicides and a trend towards autumn-sown crops. These changes have contributed to a reduced amount of available insect food for nestlings.

Research by the RSPB at Rutland Water has shown that a good availability of invertebrate food for chicks close to the breeding sites is crucial. The breeding season extends from April to mid-August so a diversity of habitat is required to ensure continuity of supply over such a long breeding season. Additionally, a lack of seed food, particularly during the winter months, is also thought to be a key factor, but its importance is unclear at present.

By identifying the problem it is to be hoped that a turnaround in fortunes can be achieved. The RSPB is promoting a package of measures for farmers and landowners to improve habitat and provide nest-sites, with support available through a number of agri-environment schemes.

For further details of how the work of the RSPB has led to this conservation success story, click here to read a PDF which gives the full story.

If you like this sort of work then please consider donating to, or joining, the RSPB.

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