Posted: Wednesday 21 November 2012
by Richard Jones
Within days, two scientific reports - on British birds and ground beetles - have made national headlines because of their dire prognoses.
Within days, two scientific reports on Britain’s wildlife have made national news headlines because of their dire prognoses. The State of the UK’s Birds 2012, produced by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, British Trust for Ornithology and The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust makes mixed reading. Most of the national media have concentrated on losses and falls to make their articles ‘newsworthy’. Pick your own statistic: 22 million birds lost since the 1960s; non-native birds now make up 20 per cent (by weight) of the UK avian population; two UK sea ducks – the velvet scoter and long-tailed duck - are now threatened with global extinction.
Not all is doom and gloom. In the chart of breeding bird trends, many familiar garden species are actually increasing year on year: great spotted woodpecker up 141 per cent since 1995, blue tit up 7 per cent, great tit 46 per cent, coal tit 17 per cent, long-tailed tit 27 per cent, nuthatch 80 per cent, song thrush 13 per cent, and blackbird 23 per cent. But it’s some of the crashes that are most worrying: the cuckoo down 49 per cent, swift down 38 per cent, kingfisher down 33 per cent. What’s going on out there?
The report, unlike much of the media coverage, is loath to point any fingers, and with some birds increasing it’s a highly complex picture that does not suffer simple analysis. Most worrying, for me, is the observation that farmland birds are at their lowest ever recorded level, down by half since the 1970s.
Now a report on some of our common ground beetles highlights serious declines. In three-quarters of the 68 species studied, there were significant losses since 1995. Half of these are down by more than 30 per cent - this is not a random statistic, but the figure regularly bandied about as a warning of ‘conservation concern’. These types of decline have already been seen in more obvious (and more newsworthy) insects, such as bumblebees, butterflies and moths.
One thing is clear to me though - as the industrialisation of agriculture continues to degrade and dilute the wider countryside, urban gardens take on a greater and greater importance in maintaining our biodiversity, be it birds or beetles.
Nowadays, Christopher Robin might not even be able find Alexander Beetle in the first place.