Alarming decline in insects means a fall in bird populations

A huge decline in farmland birds in Europe is believed to be mirrored here. Another reason, perhaps, why so many extra voters turned to the Green party in the local and European elections.

Alarming decline in insects means a fall in bird populations

A huge decline in farmland birds in Europe is believed to be mirrored here. Another reason, perhaps, why so many extra voters turned to the Green party in the local and European elections.

Numbers of farmland birds in 28 European countries have fallen 55% in three decades, according to figures from the European Bird Census Council. Birdwatch Ireland says two thirds of our 202 regularly occurring birds are red and amber-listed. Those are the two most critical conservation ratings.

Two reports in France highlight what has been described as a catastrophic decline in farmland birds there, with conservationists warning this reflects a wider crisis in Europe.

Skylarks and buntings are among the worst affected. The spread of insecticides, which kill insects the birds feed on, is among the main reasons. More pesticides are being used because of intensive crop production, amid concern that land is being turned into desert as pollinators and soil life, so essential for food production, are being wiped out.

Conservationists stress that bird numbers are also falling here, with Tom Lynch, a prominent member of Clare Birdwatch, noting that many of migrating birds which come annually are not reaching our shores.

“Take the housemartin, swallow, sand-martin, and swift, numbers seem to be falling every year,” says Tom.

Birds like the spotted flycatcher are really scarce in Clare this year. Also, numbers of skylark and meadow pipit continue to decrease. All these birds depend on insects.

"Pesticides, insecticides and herbicides are doing untold damage whether sprayed by tidy-conscious gardeners or in vast quantities by farmers.”

Also, the practice of growing a single crop of grass yearly on the same land, with no rotation, is not helping either. Birdwatch Ireland is taking heart from a positive response to its pre-elections appeal to voters to make their concerns known to candidates. The message to politicians was: Voters want more action to restore nature and to deal with climate change at national and EU levels.

Scientist say the bird decline correlates to the dramatic reduction in insect life. There has been a 76% fall in numbers of flying insects on German nature reserves in less than 30 years, which is linked to increasing use of pesticides and insecticides.

According to the survey, the disappearance of farmland species intensified in the last decade, and again over the last two summers. All birds depend on insects in one way or another.

In the UK, Martin Harper, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, reports a 56% reduction in farmland birds. Bird populations fare better in non-EU states and in eastern Europe, where farming became less intensive after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

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