There's a kind of hush all over our countryside. A disturbing quietness that is not just aural but also visual. Where once were Lapwings, finches and buntings there are... well, not a lot actually. A brief visit to Canons Farm this morning was soul destroying. In recent years it has come to be expected that the days of bird numbers at this site have long gone, but even so we do, from time to time, witness a build up of Linnets, Chaffinches and Skylarks, plus a few cherished Yellowhammers. The winter months are normally blessed with several hundred Redwings and Fieldfares. And if we are really struggling for something to look at then we have always been able to fall back on scanning through the hundreds of corvids, Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves. But not now. Not this winter. The place is barren.

And it isn't just Canons Farm that appears to be bereft locally. With all of the time that I'm spending in the woodlands looking for Hawfinches it has not gone unnoticed that - get this - Hawfinch is by far the most numerous species present. I have seen just a few Chaffinches, a single Siskin, no Redpolls and no Bramblings. Apart from the odd tit, Robin, Dunnock or Wren it is very hard work. The thrushes are mostly missing as well. I just hope that this is a local phenomena and not one that is being repeated elsewhere.

The current issue of British Wildlife has a sobering feature by Ian Newton on 'Seeds and seed-eating birds'. It is sub-titled 'casualties of agricultural change'. In it he explains how farming technology and methods since the Second World War have catastrophically reduced the wild flower seed supply and the incidence of spilt grain from crops. No wonder that the population change in some of our seed-eating passerines (between 1970- 2013) makes frightening reading: Greenfinch (-39%), Redpoll (-86%), Bullfinch (-40%), Yellowhammer (-55%), Reed Bunting (-32%), Corn Bunting (-90%), House Sparrow (-66%), Tree Sparrow (-90%), Skylark (-60%). All in the name of progress and so that we can buy cheaper food. I'd sooner pay more for my bread, cereal and vegetables and be able to see flocks of these wonderful birds. It makes me want to weep.


Derek Faulkner said…
Greenfinch numbers have been greatly reduced due to the parasite that has killed them by the mega thousands. In the coastal areas of Kent in particular, House Sparrows remain very common with many people, myself included, reporting resident flocks of 30-50 birds in their gardens. Also here on Sheppey, Chaffinches, Wrens, and Dunnocks are plentiful and Linnets in large flocks. We don't however, have a single Hawfinch on Sheppey, so perhaps it's a case of well, you can't have everything.
Steve Gale said…
You are quite right Derek, Greenfinches have suffered a double-whammy. As for House Sparrows, they are missing from many areas where they were once plentiful - luckily I still see them in fair numbers here in Banstead.
no fieldfare this winter on my patrols
Steve Gale said…
They are very scarce here as well Simon
Ric said…
I wonder if many species have changed their habits on account of the somewhat sterile mono culture farmland environment.
I have one particular local patch of 1sq mile, which is hemmed in by housing on all sides. My average species count is 40. Lots of Song Thrush, Blackbird, Redwing and a few Fieldfare. Lots of birds numerically.
Another patch is bigger, but the density is much less. And the closer to farmland I get, the less birds.
It could be that suburbia is one area that isn't continually soaked in chemicals for food production, with the obvious effects higher up the food chain.
Maybe the RSPB should extend their 'Garden Watch' survey to everywhere, though I wouldn't be surprised that for political reasons they won't in case they reveal an uncomfortable truth to the masses.
Steve Gale said…
Ric, there are still small havens out there, but, as you say, they are small (and fewer). I look back through my notebooks from 30-40 years ago and see counts (and species) that couldn't be replicated today - and those counts were no doubt depressed from those of 30-40 years before that!

Popular posts from this blog

Brambling spectacular

Corn Buntings on the South Downs

The day of the Redwing