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Decline in world’s birds

…points to environmental crisis

Global meeting of conservationists urges governments to invest in wildlife

Birds are in decline across the world, providing evidence of a rapid deterioration in the global environment that is affecting all life on Earth. That is the stark messages from ‘State of the World’s Birds’, a new publication and website (www.birdlife.org/sowb) launched today at BirdLife International’s World Conference in Buenos Aires. Birds once common in the UK countryside are among those identified in the report as suffering from huge declines in numbers, with cuckoos, turtle doves and nightingales among those at risk.

The report says that while the world’s governments have committed themselves to slowing or halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010, a reluctance to commit what are often trivial sums in terms of national budgets means the target is almost certain to be missed.

Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife's CEO, said: “Birds provide an accurate and easy to read environmental barometer, allowing us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life is putting on the world’s biodiversity”.

The report highlights an analysis of 124 of Europe’s common birds which took place over a a 26-year period. The results showed 56 species (45% of those surveyed) had declined across 20 countries, with farmland birds doing particularly badly… The familiar common cuckoo has declined by 17%, while species such as turtle-dove, grey partridge and corn bunting have dropped by 62%, 79% and 61% respectively.

The story is the same for birds migrating between Europe, the Middle East and Africa, which have suffered 40% population declines over just three decades.Dr Rands said: “Birds hit by agricultural intensification in Europe may also suffer from excessive hunting in the Middle East and desertification of their African wintering grounds. These species are being hit at all stages of their annual journeys. Common migratory species such as Eurasian wryneck, Northern wheatear, sedge warbler and common nightingale are silently disappearing.

Dr Mark Avery, Director of Conservation at the RSPB, said: “People love birds and notice when they start to disappear from fields and hedgerows. They ask why numbers are falling. The answer is man’s impact on the global environment, through the intensification of farming and fishing, our role in the spread of invasive species, logging and the replacement of natural forest with plantations. Then there is man-made climate change, which may prove the most serious threat of all. Because birds are found almost everywhere on earth, they can act as our eyes and ears. What they are telling us is that the deterioration in biodiversity and the environment is accelerating, not slowing.”Yet conservation can work and is relatively cheap. Direct action saved 16 bird species from extinction between 1994 and 2004. But conserving biodiversity now urgently needs more financial support.

Dr Rands said: “Effective biodiversity conservation is easily affordable, requiring relatively trivial sums at the scale of the global economy.The world is failing in its 2010 pledge to achieve a significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biodiversity. The challenge is to harness international biodiversity commitments and ensure that concrete actions are taken — now!”

4th July 2014