Magpie Controversy Erupts in the Media

British ecological controversy has suddenly found itself in the media glare, as wildlife charities publicly dispute the role of magpies in limiting songbird populations.

The Songbird Survival Trust has urged people to trap and kill magpies over the next three months in order to conserve populations of song thrushes, blackbirds and house sparrows. They blame the birds for contributing to recent population declines by raiding nests and eating eggs and young. Nick Forde, a trustee of the SST, said “I don’t like the idea of harming animals but if they are destroying our biodiversity, then we have to take action. Unless the population of some predators is controlled, there is little, if any, hope that the small bird populations can recover.”

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 specifically provides for the culling of magpies, as long as it is done humanely and for a specific purpose, such as bird conservation.

However, groups including the RSPB have spoken out against the cull. A spokesman said: “We do not think that trapping and killing of magpies is justified in most situations. In certain circumstances on reserves to protect ground-nesting birds such as lapwings it may be necessary to reduce magpie numbers. But we do not think there is any case for people to do it in their own gardens and it will make absolutely no difference to arrest the decline of songbirds throughout the country.”

Chris Packham, the naturalist and TV presenter, responded even more forcefully in the Guardian, accusing the Trust of “kneejerk ornithological racism” and “outdated views built on a foundation of medieval superstition”.

Whilst acknowledging the role magpies play as predators, opponents of the cull point instead to the intensification of farming practices, pollution and habitat loss as the main reasons for declining songbird populations. They argue that the limited research that has been done does not single out magpies as the cause, and that anecdotal observational evidence may be overly influencing opinions.

To read more, visit the Times.