'Dramatic decline' in common birds

Braintree and Witham Times: The RSPB said it was particularly worried about the population of the turtle dove (RSPB/PA) The RSPB said it was particularly worried about the population of the turtle dove (RSPB/PA)

There has been a dramatic decline in the population of some of the UK's most common countryside birds, the RSPB has warned.

Some familiar birds have disappeared completely since the 1990s, according to the charity's State of the UK's Birds report.

It examined the UK's 107 most widespread and common breeding birds and found that 16 of those species had declined by more than a third since 1995.

These species included the cuckoo, starling, willow tit, lapwing, whinchat and wood warbler. The RSPB said it was particularly worried about the populations of the turtle dove and grey partridge, which have halved since 1995.

The British race of the yellow wagtail, whose population is found almost entirely in the UK, has fallen by 45% since then.

RSPB conservation scientist Dr Mark Eaton said there were some positives however, with some bird populations flourishing.

He said: "I think many of us have been shocked by how poorly some of our most familiar species are faring. Many of the birds we're referring to aren't rare and don't occur in remote locations.

"To the contrary, they are ones you used to see while walking the dog or enjoying a family picnic. But over two decades many of these species have ebbed away from huge swathes of our countryside. In contrast some species, such as the red kite, have become conservation success stories as this species has returned to our countryside."

Phil Grice, senior environmental specialist in ornithology at Natural England, said the report findings meant that more work needed to go into protecting birds in the wider countryside, rather than those maintained on special sites such as natural reserves.

He added: " Through environmental stewardship and initiatives like nature improvement areas, we are working in close partnership with farmers and other land managers to make a difference for biodiversity across whole landscapes, allowing people to experience England's characteristic wildlife close to where they live."

Colette Hall, species monitoring officer with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, said: "There's worrying evidence here that the breeding ranges of many of our waders are drastically shrinking.

"We're losing much-loved species like snipe or lapwing completely from southern parts of England now. A main cause seems to be loss of habitat due to wetlands being drained for farming or development. We need to protect and restore these habitats in order for species like these - and all wetland wildlife - to survive and prosper."

The RSPB said the decline in bird species coincided with the launch of the Bird Atlas 2007-11 published by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) last month, which covered all of the UK's breeding and wintering birds and showed the speed at which countryside birds are vanishing across the UK.

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