Enjoy participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch in Britain, but do not overlook the increasing dangers that birds are facing. This is the opinion of the Observer’s editorial team.
Whether it is a starling squabbling with a neighbour or a few goldfinches bringing a blaze of colour to a garden, there is much to be said for bird-watching. This will be particularly evident this weekend with the culmination of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch when an estimated half a million people will spend an hour counting every avian guest that perches on their lawns and bushes.
Fortunate individuals may catch a glimpse of a rare bird in flight, such as the waxwing, a shy, crested visitor to the United Kingdom that has been arriving in unexpected numbers this winter – an event known as an irruption. Others will have to be satisfied with more common birds like house sparrows, starlings, or wood pigeons. Even so, spending 60 minutes bird-watching is a worthwhile activity. It is the easiest way for us to connect with nature. Simply sit by a window with a cup of coffee and a notebook and observe the natural world around you. This is a relaxing form of citizen science. Additionally, recording bird sightings in our gardens plays an important role in UK conservation efforts. In fact, it has become an essential tool for biologists to gather a comprehensive understanding of the state of our wildlife. Unfortunately, this snapshot has revealed growing concerns.
The starling, a bird that used to be abundant in city skies, has experienced a significant decline of 87% since the 1960s. Similarly, the house sparrow population has decreased by over 10 million pairs and the song thrush by 76%. It is estimated that the EU and UK have lost over 600 million breeding birds in the past 40 years.
These are alarming and shocking statistics that demonstrate the severe consequences of biodiversity loss in various bird and animal populations. In the past, our focus has been on protecting rare and visually appealing species, such as the golden eagle or puffin. However, surveys like the Big Garden Birdwatch have uncovered the unfortunate reality that all wildlife in Britain is at risk, including common songbirds that we used to see in our parks and gardens.
It is not difficult to identify the primary reason for the decline in bird population. According to the RSPB, the widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers in intensive farming methods has been the primary factor driving the decrease in bird numbers in the UK since WWII. It may seem unlikely, but these farming practices can impact birds in all areas, even urban and suburban environments.
Nevertheless, around 75% of the United Kingdom consists of agricultural land, which has a significant impact on bird populations across all types of habitats. Essentially, the birds found in urban and suburban areas are overflow from their countryside counterparts. It may seem logical to hold farmers responsible for this unsettling situation and demand immediate actions to decrease agricultural production. This could potentially slow down biodiversity loss and reduce carbon emissions. However, implementing such abrupt measures poses a considerable risk.
The recent riots across Europe, sparked by regulations aimed at limiting farm production, highlight the potential risks. Some farmers, influenced and encouraged by far-right organizations, are protesting against the EU’s efforts to restrict intensive land use and promote environmental protection. This has resulted in the blocking of roads and the vandalism of government structures.
The United Kingdom must find a way to prevent conflict while also reducing the intensity of its agriculture. This can only be achieved through collaboration, rather than resistance, from those who cultivate our land. It is important to proceed with both speed and caution.