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.