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Where Have All Our Sparrows Gone?

A huge public survey of London`s sparrows was launched 18th June 2002.

The London Biodiversity Partnership is launching a major survey to find out what is happening to the capital`s house sparrow population. The survey aims to establish the distribution and population of the much-loved cockney sparrow,which has declined dramatically in many parts of London over the last 30 years. The house sparrow was once a common and familiar bird throughout London`s parks and gardens, flocking to feed from people`s hands. Questions have even been asked in Parliament about the sparrow`s demise, but no-one is quite sure why they have declined so drastically. Research is underway by a number of organisations such as the RSPB to find out possible reasons, but now the London Biodiversity Partnership is calling on Londoners to help identify where sparrows are. Londoners can take part in the survey which runs from 18 June to 12 July, by submitting records online at http://www.rspb.org.uk or http://www.wildlondon.org.uk. Sending records via the internet saves valuable resources, but postal records can also be submitted by ringing 01273 775333 for a Freepost paper form. Chris Packham, the popular wildlife broadcaster and photographer with a long-standing interest in the capital`s wildlife, explained that Where Have All Our Sparrows Gone?` is a survey that everyone in London, whether a resident or a visitor, can take part in. It asks people to go out and look for sparrows, and count how many they find. If we can see where sparrows are still doing well, with good numbers still being found, and compare these places with sites where sparrows have disappeared, this may help us to understand what`s gone wrong. It could also help to show how to manage our parks and gardens to encourage sparrows in the future.The survey is launched in Kensington Gardens where a remarkable series of autumn bird counts since the 1920s illustrate the house sparrow`s decline. 2,603 house sparrows were counted in 1925, but numbers dropped to 885 in 1948, 544 in 1975, 81 in 1995, and only 8 in October 2000. Just four birds have been present there this spring, this despite many other species of birds continuing to flourish in Kensington Gardens and the other Royal Parks. Famous sites that have lost their house sparrows completely include St James Park, Buckingham Palace (where they used to breed in the gates) and Hyde Park.Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, sent a message of support to the survey, saying:When you consider how familiar sparrows once were in London, it`s amazing to think that there are now many children who won`t even have seen one. I`m proud to have a role in this important survey on the London sparrow. But the role of Londoners is even more important: by letting us know where sparrows can still be found you will provide a vital clue to finding out why they`re in trouble and how we can hold onto them.Rachel de Thame, TVs urban gardening guru and a London resident herself, said, There was a time when a London garden really wasn`t complete without the chirping of a cheeky house sparrow. It is sad to see how much they have declined. I would urge every gardener to consider doing theirbit for the sparrow, both to send in their records and to ensure that your garden is sparrow-friendly.Chris Packham added, Until recently, we have taken the house sparrow for granted. Now it is clear we need to act quickly to turn its fortunes around. Although it seems likely that the reasons for its decline are going to prove complex, we as home-owners and gardeners can nevertheless do our bit now to aid its conservation. As the survey progresses, visitors to the websites will be able to track online where sparrows have and have not been seen.NB The London Biodiversity Partnership (LBP) is a consortium of public, private and voluntary organisations. Together they aim to conserve and enhance the capital`s wildlife and natural places for future generations to benefit from and enjoy. LBP has produced the London Biodiversity Action Plan which identifies a range of actions aimed at conserving a variety of habitats and species in London, of which house sparrow is one. For more information go to http://www.lbp.org.uk

4th July 2014