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British Agriculture Marketing Ltd

DEFRA/BTO Bird Population Figures

3/12/03

Introduction

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) published the results from their latest Breeding Birds Survey (1994-2002) today. These results are used by DEFRA as wildlife indicators, part of the Government’s biodiversity action plan.

The survey methodology is not questionable. But the graph produced to illustrate the results is misleading and incomplete. See below.

Population of wild birds: 1970-2002 United Kingdom

All species are usually plotted as a blue line (106 species).

Woodland species a green line (33).

Farmland species a red line (19) – danger signal.

This means that 54 species are missing.

The 54 missing species should be plotted as a yellow line. This line would be steeply climbing to balance out the red and green lines that are in decline.

So why is the yellow line missing?

Why is the yellow line missing?

The RSPB is a charity. Charities rely on voluntary donations and membership recruitment to fund their activities. They use professional direct marketing agencies to develop communications activity and recruit members.

In order to ‘attract’ members and donations, direct marketing activity has to highlight the ‘plight’ to consumers and communicate the ‘urgent need’ to do something to help. Otherwise, donors will not be encouraged to put their hands in their pocket. Charities are also competing with other charities for donations and members. This makes it important for the charity to get its message across to as many people as possible.

The RSPB is much more likely to use a graph that shows a sharp decline in bird populations than one that shows the population numbers going up.

So the yellow line gets left off.

The RSBP has developed a significant amount of direct marketing activity over the last decade and has successfully recruited over 1 million members. This is good news for conservation. However, this has resulted in the graph being widely publicized and it is commonly accepted as the standard approach. Many people accept its findings without questioning its validity. Including DEFRA.

What else is wrong?

Years ago, the RSPB, recognized that modern farming methods were damaging bird populations. This led to the classification of some bird species as ‘farmland’ (ie land use classification) and some by habitat (eg. woodland, wetland).

In other words, the BTO muddled up habitat and land use classifications. There is no ‘land use’ classification for urban areas.

Farming covers around 75% of UK land area. The other 25% is urban development (ie. towns and cities).

It is often difficult to determine whether a bird is a farmland or woodland species. Is a Jackdaw, a woodland or farmland species? I have a pair nesting in my chimney. But I’m not a farmer and I live in the middle of a village. I see lots of Buzzards on the edge of farmland, but they aren’t classified as farm birds. A Kestrel is.

Most of the UK’s ponds and wetland habitats are found on farmland.

This means that the farmland classification is misleading and should be revised.

We should have a land use classification or a habitat classification, not both together. The term farmland is too broad, as it covers agricultural crops as well as Cornish hedgerows and hill farms.

Why this bothers me?

Everyone points the finger at the farmer. They are blamed for polluting rivers, decline in bird populations and destruction of the countryside.

In 2000, English Heritage research, found that members valued farming for the exact opposite. Farmers protect our countryside. In Kent, the loss of farming was mourned by people in their 30’s as well as their 70’s. Their ‘garden of England’ had been destroyed by motorways and road building. The orchards have disappeared. Ordnance survey maps testify to this.

Just look at the whole of the South East. Without farming, the land is sold to property developers and the barns converted into executive homes or little business premises.

One Lincolnshire farmer, Nicholas Watts, looks after more birds than any RSPB member. He produces hundreds of tonnes of grain each year and then altruistically feeds over wintering birds each year.

So why do farmers put up with this?

Farmers are an easy target. They never respond to criticism – they don’t have the resources of large marketing departments and PR companies to keep throwing the comments back.

What is the consequence?

Farmers are blamed, the true story is never told.

Urban development is responsible for much greater destruction of our countryside than farmers today. Road building, housing estates, out-of-town supermarkets and even the domestic cat. What about climate change?

Cats kill millions of birds each year

In 2003, a domestic cat population of 9 million will have killed millions of little birds and small mammals. The Mammal Society, the only organization solely dedicated to study and conservation of all British mammals, estimated that cats brought home 92 million prey items in the period of their survey (1st April to 31st August) This included 57 million mammals, 27 million birds, and 5 million reptiles and amphibians.

Source: Predation of wildlife by domestic cats in Great Britain http://www.abdn.ac.yk/mammal/cat_predation.htm

Cars run over millions of animals each year

Common mammal species such as hedgehogs, badgers and hares might be declining and face local extinction in certain parts of Europe primarily due to rood casualties. In Britain, annual road casualties are estimated to account for the death of 100,000 foxes, 100,000 hedgehogs, 50,000 badgers and 30-50,000 deer.

http://abdn.ac.uk/mammal/road_deaths.htm

The domestic cat, slug pellets, garden weed killers are the true killers.

But the RSPB don’t publicise this. They would then be pointing the finger at their own membership base. RSPB members typically have an older age profile (the over 50’s), living in suburban areas, garden bird lovers, keen gardeners and more likely to own a cat.

If the BTO had a classification for urban birds, then we would be able to point the finger at some other culprits.

Global Issues

At the same time, many birds migrate. Climate change, droughts, warm summers and seafish stocks all have an impact on bird population levels. Many of the issues are still not even understood. But the RSPB does not focus on global wildlife issues. That’s more of the remit of other environment charities. RSPB focuses on issues close to home that its members can understand. This Spring, about 40,000 pairs of breeding Puffins turned up on the Farne Islands, Northumberland and simply disappeared again. Why was this?

To simply point the finger at farmers is completely missing the point. DEFRA always links everything to farming. It never seems to make the link to car usage, petrol consumption and oil companies. Or out-of-town shopping and supermarkets. Does anyone walk to the shops anymore? Possibly only in areas where there are still local shops.

For more information on Bird populations in relation to the Farne Islands, speak to Charles Cresswell on 01668 214 230, a keen conservationist and farmer.

Charles Cresswell is Chairman of The National Trusts Farne Island Management Advisory Committee, Vice President of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Chairman of the Farne Islands Advisory Committee and on the regional AONB committee.

Test the Logic Yourself

The following table lists the BTO species.

Try and work out which ones are the 19 farmland and 33 woodland species before you look at the next few tables.

 

List of species (in Taxonomic order)

 

 

WATERBIRDS
Red-throated Diver
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Cormorant
Grey Heron
Mute Swan
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Shelduck
Mallard
Tufted Duck
Goosander
RAPTORS
Hen Harrier
Sparrowhawk
Buzzard
Kestrel
Merlin
Hobby
Peregrine Falcon
GAMEBIRDS
Red Grouse
Red-legged Partridge
Grey Partridge
Pheasant
Moorhen
Coot
WADERS
Oystercatcher
Ringed Plover
Golden Plover
Lapwing
Snipe
Curlew
Woodcock
Redshank
Common Sandpiper
NEAR PASSERINES
Stock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Turtle Dove
Collared Dove
Cuckoo
OWLS
Barn Owl
Little Owl
Tawny Owl
Long-eared Owl
Nightjar
Swift
Kingfisher
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
LARKS
Woodlark
Skylark
Swallow
Sand Martin
House Martin
Tree Pipit
Meadow Pipit

Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Pied Wagtail
Dipper
Dunnock
Wren
THRUSHES
Robin
Nightingale
Redstart
Whinchat
Stonechat
Wheatear
Ring Ouzel
Blackbird
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
WARBLERS
Grasshopper Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Whitethroat
Garden Warbler
Blackcap
Wood Warbler
Chiffchaff
Willow Warbler
Goldcrest
Spotted Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
TITS
Long-tailed Tit
Marsh Tit
Willow Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Nuthatch
Treecreeper
CROWS
Jay
Magpie
Jackdaw
Rook
Crow
Raven
Starling
SPARROWS
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
FINCHES
Chaffinch
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Siskin
Linnet
Lesser Redpoll
Bullfinch
BUNTINGS
Yellowhammer
Reed Bunting
Corn Bunting

 

Source: BTO website

 

 

 

 

Species Classification by Habitat and Land Use

 

Arctic Skua

Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and Seabird2000

Arctic Tern

Annual seabird monitoring index

Blackbird

CBC/BBS

Blackcap

CBC/BBS

Black-headed Gull

Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and Seabird2000 - coastal colonies only

Blue tit

CBC/BBS

Bullfinch

CBC/BBS

Buzzard

CBC/BBS

Carrion Crow

CBC/BBS

Chaffinch

CBC/BBS

Chiffchaff

CBC/BBS

Coal tit

CBC/BBS

Collared dove

CBC/BBS

Common Gull

Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and Seabird2000 - coastal colonies only

Common Sandpiper

Waterways Bird Survey

Common Tern

Annual seabird monitoring index

Coot

CBC/BBS

Cormorant

From Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and then Seabird Monitoring Programme

Corn bunting

CBC/BBS

Cuckoo

CBC/BBS

Curlew

CBC/BBS

Dartford Warbler

RBBP

Dipper

Waterways Bird Survey

Dunnock

CBC/BBS

Eider

Extrapolated from 1989

Fulmar

From Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and then Seabird Monitoring Programme

Gadwall

Rare Breeding Birds Panel

Gannet

From OS, SCR and S2000

Garden warbler

CBC/BBS

Goldcrest

CBC/BBS

Goldfinch

CBC/BBS

Goosander

Wetland Bird Survey

Great black-backed Gull

From Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and Seabird 2000 - coastal colonies only (inland only 0.5%)

Great crested Grebe

Extrapolated from 1990

Great Skua

From OS, SCR and S2000

Great spotted woodpecker

CBC/BBS

Great tit

CBC/BBS

Green woodpecker

CBC/BBS

Greenfinch

CBC/BBS

Grey Heron

Heronries Surveys

Greylag Goose - Hebridean

Greylag Goose Surveys

Grey Partridge

CBC/BBS

Grey Wagtail

Waterways Bird Survey

Guillemot

From Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and then Seabird Monitoring Programme

Hawfinch

County Bird Reports

Herring Gull

Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and Seabird2000 - coastal colonies only

House sparrow

CBC/BBS

Jackdaw

CBC/BBS

Jay

CBC/BBS

Kestrel

CBC/BBS

Kingfisher

Waterways Bird Survey

Kittiwake

From Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and then Seabird Monitoring Programme

Lapwing

CBC/BBS

Lesser black-backed Gull

Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and Seabird2000 - coastal colonies only

Lesser spotted woodpecker

CBC/BBS

Lesser whitethroat

CBC/BBS

Linnet

CBC/BBS

Little ringed Plover

RBBP

Little Tern

Annual seabird monitoring index

Long-tailed tit

CBC/BBS

Magpie

CBC/BBS

Mallard

CBC/BBS

Marsh tit

CBC/BBS

Meadow Pipit

CBC/BBS

Mistle thrush

CBC/BBS

Moorhen

CBC/BBS

Mute Swan

Wetland Bird Survey

Nightingale

County Bird Reports

Nuthatch

CBC/BBS

Peregrine

Peregrine Surveys

Pied Wagtail

CBC/BBS

Puffin

From Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and then Seabird Monitoring Programme

Red-brested Merganser

Wetland Bird Survey

Red Grouse

Game bag

Lesser Redpoll

CBC/BBS

Redstart

CBC/BBS

Reed bunting

CBC/BBS

Reed Warbler

CBC/BBS

Robin

CBC/BBS

Rook

Rook Surveys

Sandwich Tern

From Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and then Seabird Monitoring Programme

Sedge Warbler

CBC/BBS

Shag

From Operation Seafarer, Seabird Colony Register and then Seabird Monitoring Programme

Shelduck

Extrapolated from 1990

Skylark

CBC/BBS

Song thrush

CBC/BBS

Sparrowhawk

CBC/BBS

Spotted flycatcher

CBC/BBS

Starling

CBC/BBS

Stock Dove

CBC/BBS

Swallow

CBC/BBS

Tawny owl

CBC/BBS

Tree pipit

CBC/BBS

Tree Sparrow

CBC/BBS

Treecreeper

CBC/BBS

Tufted Duck

Waterways Bird Survey

Turtle dove

CBC/BBS

Whimbrel

Extrapolated from 1992

Whitethroat

CBC/BBS

Willow tit

CBC/BBS

Willow warbler

CBC/BBS

Woodlark

Rare Breeding Birds Panel

Woodpigeon

CBC/BBS

Wren

CBC/BBS

Yellow wagtail

CBC/BBS

Yellowhammer

CBC/BBS

 

 

 

 

FARMLAND BIRD SPECIES IN ENGLAND AND UK INDICATORS

Species

Data source

Farmland generalist?

Greenfinch

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Jackdaw

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Kestrel

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Reed bunting

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Rook

Rook Surveys

Generalist

Woodpigeon

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Yellow wagtail

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Corn bunting

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Goldfinch

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Grey partridge

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Lapwing

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Linnet

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Skylark

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Starling

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Stock Dove

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Tree Sparrow

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Turtle dove

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Whitethroat

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Yellowhammer

CBC/BBS

Specialist

 

 

 

WOODLAND BIRD SPECIES IN ENGLAND AND UK INDICATORS

Species

Data source

Woodland generalist?

Blackbird

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Blue tit

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Bullfinch

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Chaffinch

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Dunnock

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Great tit

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Lesser whitethroat

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Long-tailed tit

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Robin

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Song thrush

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Tawny owl

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Wren

CBC/BBS

Generalist

Blackcap

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Chiffchaff

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Coal tit

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Garden warbler

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Goldcrest

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Great spotted woodpecker

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Green woodpecker

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Hawfinch

County Bird Report Index

Specialist

Jay

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Lesser spotted woodpecker

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Marsh tit

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Nightingale

County Bird Report Index

Specialist

Nuthatch

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Lesser Redpoll

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Redstart

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Sparrowhawk

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Spotted flycatcher

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Tree pipit

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Treecreeper

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Willow tit

CBC/BBS

Specialist

Willow warbler

CBC/BBS

Specialist

 

 

 

ALL SPECIES IN INDICATOR FOR ENGLAND

Species

Data source

Blackbird

CBC/BBS

Blackcap

CBC/BBS

Blue tit

CBC/BBS

Bullfinch

CBC/BBS

Buzzard

CBC/BBS

Carrion Crow

CBC/BBS

Chaffinch

CBC/BBS

Chiffchaff

CBC/BBS

Coal tit

CBC/BBS

Collared dove

CBC/BBS

Common Sandpiper

Waterways Bird Survey

Coot

CBC/BBS

Corn bunting

CBC/BBS

Cuckoo

CBC/BBS

Curlew

CBC/BBS

Dartford Warbler

Rare Breeding Birds Panel

Dipper

Waterways Bird Survey

Dunnock

CBC/BBS

Fulmar

Seabird Monitoring Programme

Garden warbler

CBC/BBS

Goldcrest

CBC/BBS

Goldfinch

CBC/BBS

Great spotted woodpecker

CBC/BBS

Great tit

CBC/BBS

Green woodpecker

CBC/BBS

Greenfinch

CBC/BBS

Grey Heron

Heronries surveys

Grey partridge

CBC/BBS

Grey Wagtail

Waterways Bird Survey

Guillemot

Seabird Monitoring Programme

Hawfinch

County Bird Report index

House sparrow

CBC/BBS

Jackdaw

CBC/BBS

Jay

CBC/BBS

Kestrel

CBC/BBS

Kingfisher

Waterways Bird Survey

Lapwing

CBC/BBS

Lesser spotted woodpecker

CBC/BBS

Lesser whitethroat

CBC/BBS

Linnet

CBC/BBS

Little Tern

Seabird Monitoring Programme

Long-tailed tit

CBC/BBS

Magpie

CBC/BBS

Mallard

CBC/BBS

Marsh tit

CBC/BBS

Meadow Pipit

CBC/BBS

Mistle thrush

CBC/BBS

Moorhen

CBC/BBS

Nightingale

County Bird Report index

Nuthatch

CBC/BBS

Pied Wagtail

CBC/BBS

Lesser Redpoll

CBC/BBS

Redstart

CBC/BBS

Reed bunting

CBC/BBS

Reed Warbler

CBC/BBS

Robin

CBC/BBS

Rook

Rook surveys

Sandwich Tern

Seabird Monitoring Programme

Sedge Warbler

CBC/BBS

Skylark

CBC/BBS

Song thrush

CBC/BBS

Sparrowhawk

CBC/BBS

Spotted flycatcher

CBC/BBS

Starling

CBC/BBS

Stock dove

CBC/BBS

Swallow

CBC/BBS

Tawny owl

CBC/BBS

Tree pipit

CBC/BBS

Tree sparrow

CBC/BBS

Treecreeper

CBC/BBS

Turtle dove

CBC/BBS

Whitethroat

CBC/BBS

Willow tit

CBC/BBS

Willow warbler

CBC/BBS

Woodlark

Rare Breeding Birds Panel

Woodpigeon

CBC/BBS

Wren

CBC/BBS

Yellow wagtail

CBC/BBS

Yellowhammer

CBC/BBS