Thursday, 8 February 2007

Where have all the birds gone? And where do pheasants come from?

The British Trust for Ornithology run a splendid website called Birdtrack, which enables observers to keep their birding records on line, and at the same time contribute to a national data base. When you are signed up to it, you also get occasional updates as to what is going on in the bird world in Britain. In the February update they mentioned that there were: over 50 Snipe (and up to eight Jack Snipe) at several locations in the Midlands . Now this is seriously scary. To think that seeing 50 snipe is worth mentioning. When I was a teenager in the 1950s, birdwatching on the sewage farms of South London, 50 snipe would have been a depressingingly low figure, and 1000 or more not exceptional. All these habitats have, of course gone.

I can only remember what birdwatching was like back to the 1950s, when it was already depauperate. Read W H Hudson and earlier writers to realise what has been lost. And now the winter habitats of our summer migrants are being trashed, so even these will decline and disappear.

While checking the DEFRA website for information on avian 'flu (a waste of time as their "interactive map" didn't work) I came across the following:

Many millions of game birds will be imported to the UK over the coming months. Most will arrive as hatching eggs or chicks, but up to 3 million birds will be imported as 8 week old pheasant poults or 18 week partridge chicks which may have been reared outdoors.

Great. So 3 million birds, with goodness knows how many diseases and parasites, will be deliberately released into the British countryside to mingle with our wildlife. And of course the pheasants will go on to peck away at any number of small snakes, lizards, newts, frogs and any other small animal they can gobble up. And the three million is only the birds. Even more eggs will be hatched and released to massacre wildlife. All so that a few people can blaze away at these half tame creatures and spray lead pellets into the countryside, where no doubt some of it will end up in the gizzards of small birds and possibly poison them.

No wonder wildlife is declining.

And that is why grabbing every single bit of natural or semi natural habitat, anywhere in the world is so important. Acre after acre, hectare after hectare are being gobbled up by 'development', by monoculture agriculture, or being cleared for grazing, or being overgrazed until it becomes desert. And while government agencies allow exotic species and 'game' birds to be released into what little wild is left, it is almost too depressing to contemplate.

1 comment:

  1. Well I put up 2 snipe from a ditch today! However, when I were a lad in the 50s I remember huge flocks of lapwings in winter. Now they are so small they hardly warrant the name of flock. (See my recent article in British Wildlife.) Before the sudden crash of farmland birds that got everyone excited, including the RSPB belatedly, I had been reading WH Hudson and the other old naturalists and realised that, even then, we had lost so much. Those younger than John and me cannot appreciate how we were surounded by common birds and other forms of wildlife . You didn't need reserves to preserve them and you did not have to make special expeditions to see them.

    I hadn't thought about the pheasants' provenance. And I hadn't thought about introduced zoonoses (if John can use words like depauperate so can I). On the other hand, as Tim Sharrock pointed out, if it wasn't for game rearing, even more of our old woodland fragments would have been ploughed up.

    But I fully support John about grabbing every useful patch of "nice" habitat. This is what we at the Countryside Restoration Trust are doing. While I, and a few others, were wringing our hands about the disappearing skylarks and lapwings, Robin Page did something about it. He set up the CRT and amazingly, we now own about 1500 acres around the country (which at up to £5000/acre isn't bad going). Not only are we getting animals and plants back, we aim to show that mainstream farmers can make a living and still have skylarks singing overhead.