House Sparrows Continue Precipitous Decline

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Conservation Director of the RSPB Dr Mark Avery, described the troubling plight of the House Sparrow Passer domesticus.

According to a recent study in the journal Animal Conservation by scientists from the RSPB, Natural England and De Montford University, house sparrows have declined by up to 68% of their 1970 population.

Commenting on the BBC website, Dr Peach of the RSPB, said:

“The trend towards paving of front gardens and laying decking in the back, and the popularity of ornamental plants from other parts of the world, has made many gardens no-go areas for once common British birds.”

It has been proposed that an absence of aphids and other insects during summer – crucial for feeding chicks – may have a strong role to play.

Moreover, these insects inhabit vegetation frequently associated with a healthy front garden; honeysuckle wild roses and hawthorn. The current fashion of paving over front gardens in cities, particularly in large cities like London, is no doubt linked to their demise and should be cause for a serious re-think amongst policy-makers.

When questioned, Leader of North Herts District Council, Councillor John Smith, was reluctant to concede that the loss of brownfield sites could be a potential contributory factor, believing it to be a local phenomenon.

Environment Minister Micheal Meacher was “very worried, [given that] we may have lost nearly 15 million birds in the last thirty years.” In the case of starlings, the Rt. Hon Meacher cited, that the loss of first year juveniles was known to be a contributory factor to their decline, possibly linked to diminishing autumn food supplies because of heavy pesticide use in intensive agriculture. A body of research highlights intensive agriculture as the cause of declines in farmland birds, and perhaps the combination of uber-urbanisation of town gardens is creating a ‘double whammy’ for the house sparrows.

Dr Avery and colleagues hopes to follow-up this report up with more detailed research in the near future, pending sufficient funding.

Hear the report on Radio4 here: