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Common bird study reveals further decline of Europe's farmland birds

Partridges as rare as old fashioned pear trees!

An analysis of 124 of Europe’s common birds has revealed that over a 26-year period 56 species (45 per cent) have declined across 20 European countries. This alarming rate of decline has fuelled fears for the future of many of the continent’s birds, including the Grey Partridge.

Five of the ten common European species showing the greatest declines are birds of farmland habitats. And worryingly, a comparison of new and old EU Member states shows that the declines of farmland birds of the newest members appears to be mimicking those of longer-established EU states, where the increasing intensification of farming has been the main cause of the declines.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Conservation Director (BirdLife Partner in the UK), said: The European declines of familiar farmland birds, like the Grey Partridge Perdix perdix, European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur and Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, are deeply worrying. These declines are so severe that in Europe they are considered to be heading towards continental extinction – it is only the sizeable populations of both birds in Asia, which prevents them from being considered at risk of global extinction.”

Of the 124 species, 33 species were classified as common farmland birds and 28 as common forest birds, with 63 other species regarded as either habitat specialists or specialists of other habitat types. The data analysis confirmed that farmland birds are in decline throughout Europe, with the cumulative populations of all 33 species of farmland bird suffering a decline of 44 per cent between 1980 and 2005.The report The State of Europe’s Common Birds 2007 states the following ten species that have shown the greatest declines in Europe between 1980 and 2005 are:

* Crested Lark Galerida cristata (95 per cent decline)
* Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor (81 per cent decline)
* Grey Partridge (79 per cent decline)
* Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla (74 per cent decline)
* Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe (70 per cent decline)
* Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos (63 per cent decline)
* European Turtle-dove (62 per cent decline)
* Willow Tit Parus montanus (58 per cent decline)
* Northern Lapwing (51 per cent decline)
* European Serin Serinus serinus (41 per cent decline)

Although 56 species have declined in Europe, in contrast, 29 species have increased, while the populations of a further 27 species have been found to be stable. Because of a lack of data it has not been possible to assess the long-term population trends of 12 species.Across Europe, the species that have shown the greatest increases in Europe between 1980 and 2005 are:

* Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes (658 per cent increase)
* Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis (182 per cent increase)
* Common Raven Corvus corax (118 per cent increase)
* Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla (82 per cent increase)
* Common Buzzard Buteo buteo (80 per cent increase)
* Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius (77 per cent increase)
* Common Wood-pigeon Columba palumbus (71 per cent increase)
* Eurasian Collared-dove Streptopelia decaocto (59 per cent increase)
* Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita (56 per cent increase)
* Eurasian Green Woodpecker Picus viridis (43 per cent increase)

As the Chairman of the European Bird Census Council and Head of Monitoring and Indicators at the RSPB, Dr Richard Gregory said “The increases in Common Buzzard and Common Raven are encouraging as the European populations of both birds appear to be bouncing back after decades of unwarranted persecution.” Dr Gregory added "We know that birds can be excellent indicators of change and although the overall picture is bleak, there are signs of recovery and we have the knowledge to help many of these birds. For the first time ever, we are able to look at European birds in near real time and we are making important discoveries. This is all thanks to the fantastic cooperation of thousands of expert ornithologists right across Europe. It is vital that such essential work continues into the future".

4th July 2014