Friday, 16 July 2004

Going, going, ....

For the past week or so I have been asking friends who have been birdwatching most of their life about the changes. It is scary. We are all aware of the huge drop in numbers of so many species. Even though the conservation groups such as the RSPB are publicising declines, they don't really seem to me to reflect the scale of decline.

Back in the 1950s, there were far fewer birdwatchers, and the data was scant. But so many species that we took for granted had declines or become locally extinct. Wrynecks and Red-backed Shrikes no longer nest in souther England, while Wheatears (aleady much reduced in numbers by the second half of the 20th century) are now comparaive rarities as breeding birds, and yellow wagtails, reed buntings, turtle doves are among those fast disappearing. But this is hardly surprising when one looks at the lack of insects. The pesticide revolution of the 50s and 60s was partly to blame, but it is now in suburbia where the problem lies -- massive amounts of toxic sprays are unleashed in gardens every year, so it is no surprise that there are no insects.

In the 1950s there were still small numbers of horses in the towns, and the countryside was full of animlas. Now, urban horses are a rarity, and the countryside is largely bereft of free roaming cattle over large areas of England. So it is not surprising there are hardly any insects for the birds to feed on.

I have recently been involved with a survey of European red lists (of endangered species) of invertebrates -- and it is really alarming to realise just how many insects, molluscs and other invertebrates are disappearing. And the problem here is that they are so little studied, that it appears that whenever someone studies a group of insects or other invertebrates in detail, they find they have problems.

All very gloomy. However, at least locally in East Anglia, there are some glimmers of hope. Declining markets for farm produce, has led to some fairly major changes in the countryside. More and more land is being used as amenity land, for horses, or simply small meadows. People like myself, have a couple of acres, and need to graze it, so they bring livestock back, not for commercial gain, but for management purposes, and these are usually kept organically -- or near organic. Hopefully copious quantities of sheep dung will benefit the swallows by breeding flies, and the pond I plan, should become infested with mosquitos and benefit the bats. And the dragonflies will attract Hobbies.

When thinking about wildlife, think insects: anything that can increase the number of insects is a sure-fire way of helping a lot of other wildlife.

1 comment:

  1. Paddocks with ponies, sheep, goats, alapacas are fine - providing the animals are not being treated for worms with antiparasitic drugs like ivermectin. If they are, their dung becomes sterile, if not toxic. No successions of beetles, flies etc - to the detriment of insect-eating birds and bats.