6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Kent Life today CLICK HERE

Protecting our farmland birds in Kent

PUBLISHED: 16:16 20 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:34 20 February 2013

Protecting our farmland birds in Kent

Protecting our farmland birds in Kent

Fewer songbirds and farmland birds may well be a symptom of a changing countryside, but is research missing the main culprits?

Protecting our farmland birds in Kent


Fewer songbirds and farmland birds may well be a symptom of a changing countryside, but is research missing the main culprits?



Statistics concerning birdlife in the British countryside make alarming reading. Take a look at the list of songbirds in decline since 1975. All of the species mentioned are familiar to Kent birdwatchers.


The tree sparrow and lesser redpole are increasingly rare in the county and in all their traditional habitats. The bullfinch, skylark and song thrush are more abundant, but still in nothing like the numbers we took for granted a generation ago.


Kent has always been a favourite stop off and indeed breeding ground for migrating birds, with the countys abundance of coastal wetland, and is one of the last strongholds in England for the beleaguered nightingale.


Numbers of farmland birds such as the grey partridge relatively familiar in north and east Kent and Romney Marsh are also at their lowest since records began 40 years ago, with a fall of five per cent just over the last year, according to the Governments Farmland Bird Index.


It is easy to blame farming intensification for the decline in farmland bird numbers, but another set of statistics suggests we need to look beyond just habitat for an explanation.


We have more broadleaved trees than half a century ago, and our hedgerows are increasing year-on-year, reversing previous declines. We live in a managed environment and have done so for thousands of years. The past century has indeed seen developments which are hostile to wild habitats, but stewardship schemes and industry-lead initiatives such as the Campaign for the Farmed Environment have improved conditions for wildlife.


The contribution of predators to the decline in bird numbers is yet to be adequately researched, and a small charity called Songbird Survival is seeking to put this right. Policy Director Keith McDougall says: Peer reviewed research projects unequivocally demonstrate the need for the conservation establishment to find ways to integrate predator control as part of a broad spectrum of measures to help songbirds, alongside well proven habitat protection and enhancement.


What is clear is that despite habitat protection measures, songbirds and farmland birds are not recovering. Some are close to extinction. Something is going wrong, says McDougall, the schemes are not delivering.


He advocates that we take a serious look at the sheer volume of excess predators that traditional land managers know all about but which desk-bound conservation experts tend wilfully to ignore.


Habitat conservation is invaluable, and easy to embrace. Predator control is not so palatable, particularly to those whose lives are divorced from the countryside. Anecdotally, it seems likely that crows and magpies, for example, bear responsibility for the decline of other species. We should, therefore, not ignore this when researching the cause of farmland bird population decline.


Raptors such as sparrowhawks are also linked to the decline in farmland birds and songbirds, but we should also open our eyes to the role of mammals such as squirrels, foxes and badgers. In areas of high grey squirrel density, nesting birds can really struggle to breed successfully.


If we are to reverse the decline in bird species which are such a valuable part of the Kent countryside, we need to make a thorough, rather than selective, examination of the causes.



Songbird population decline in Great Britain since 1975



Lesser redpole 91 per cent


Tree sparrow 89 per cent


Bullfinch 56 per cent


Skylark 51 per cent


Song thrush 48 per cent



Habitat loss? On the contrary



Broadleaved woodland has increased by a third since 1947


Each year 4,400 km of hedgerow is planted


5,700 km of derelict hedgerow has been restored


70 per cent of farms are in schemes which reward wildlife conservation



More from Out & About

Wherever you go in Kent you'll find people just like us pounding the streets, parks and waterways. So why are we all running?

Read more
May 2019

Kent has a wealth of beautiful gardens to visit and throughout the open garden season you'll find an array of stunning choices. Here's a selection of our favourites

Read more
April 2019
Thursday, May 9, 2019

Kent has many villages that exude historical charm and a traditional village atmosphere beloved by locals and visitors. Here we pick 10 of the prettiest to explore

Read more
Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Whether it's a castle, stately country manor house or seafront hotel, Kent has the perfect venue

Read more
May 2019

Close neighbours, one ancient, one modern - meet the very different West Kent neighbours

Read more
May 2019

With its quirky shops, Norman castle, ancient cathedral and riverside setting, even Charles Dickens would agree it doesn't get much better than historic Rochester

Read more
Monday, April 29, 2019

Kent is not only home to many stunning beaches but also has some of the safest and cleanest in the country, many with prestigious Blue Flag status

Read more

From a gentle stroll to admire the flowers to expert-led walks, there's something for every May garden fan to enjoy

Read more
May 2019

Margate has one of the closest sandy beaches to London, it's been packing in the day-trippers for centuries and now boasts added cultural regeneration

Read more
May 2019
Thursday, April 25, 2019

We have selected 12 of the grandest historic stately homes with stunning gardens in Kent to visit

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook


Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search

Most Read

Latest from the Kent Life