The bush thickknees in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens were soaking up the midday
sun at the edge of their favourate patch of palms when I went out for lunch
On the subject of woodland birds ...
28 JUNE 2002 NEWS RELEASE No: 4976
ISSUED ON BEHALF OF THE WOODLAND BIRD GROUP
WOODLAND BIRD NUMBERS COUNT
A major new survey to discover why woodland bird numbers are showing downward
trends has been set up by the Woodland Bird Group led by the Forestry Commission
in a partnership of specialists from 14 organisations.
The 'Quality of Life' indicator shows woodland bird populations falling by 20
per cent among 33 species in the last 25 years. Some of these such as the Lesser
Spotted Woodpecker, Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Tit have declined by more than
50 per cent since the late 1960s.
Launching the survey at BTO's Headquarters in Thetford, Norfolk, Forestry
Minister Elliot Morley said: "We don't know yet which factors are driving the
change in woodland bird populations, but this important survey will help us to
determine what is going on. Whilst many species are falling in numbers there are
some which are actually increasing and there are marked regional differences.
" We have already made significant progress in determining the factors involved
in the decline of farmland birds; it is now time to focus more attention on our
woodland birds. In our mixed landscapes of small woodlands and farmland the fate
of all our wild birds is interlinked.
"One reason for the decline could in part be the isolation and generally small
size of our woodlands. Expanding and linking of woodlands are two key aims of
the Government's England Forestry Strategy.
"It is impossible to truly measure our quality of life, but it would be tragic
if in the future our children were never able to experience the full natural
wonder of a woodland dawn chorus."
Richard Smithers, the Woodland Trust's UK conservation adviser, said: "We really
hope the project will help people realise the degree to which our woodland
wildlife is threatened by the fragmentation and isolation of the UK's woods. If
we are to give our wildlife half a chance in the face of climate change, we need
urgent action at a landscape scale. The recent decline in woodland-bird
populations is a signal that we can't afford to ignore."
Rob Fuller, BTO's Director of Habitats Research said: "We know about the large
declines in several of our woodland birds mainly because BTO volunteers started
counting birds in the 1960s. At that time there were plenty of Spotted
Flycatchers and Willow Tits in our woodlands but that is no longer the case. We
welcome the opportunity to look again at these woods and to try to work out what
has been going wrong."
Ken Smith, leading the survey for the RSPB, said: "The declines in woodland
birds are very worrying, particularly in the light of the downward trends in
farmland birds we have already seen. The Woodland Bird Survey is a welcome
opportunity to shed light on the key factors that may be involved. It is
pleasing that data collected by BTO volunteers and RSPB staff over many decades
can be brought together and used in this way."
The survey will look at species and their distribution on 350 mainly broadleaved
woodland plots across England, Wales and part of Scotland. It will take place
during both the 2003 and 2004 breeding seasons. Survey trials are being carried
out this year by BTO and RSPB. Further analysis and reporting will take place in
2005. The principal funding partners are the Forestry Commission, DEFRA and
English Nature and the 4-year project will cost £600,000, involving both
professional and volunteer field workers.
The results will allow trends in population declines to be more clearly
determined and understood by region, landscape context, woodland size and
condition. As well as mapping bird distribution within the plots a range of
other measurements will be made, such as woodland habitat structure, deer
impacts and grey squirrel numbers. Findings will help focus future research
priorities and provide interim guidance for management and policy makers.
Wild birds are considered a good indicator of the general state of health of our
wildlife and the countryside and they have been chosen as one of the
Government's 15 headline indicators of progress towards sustainable
NOTES TO NEWS EDITORS
1. The Woodland Bird Group (WBG) is led by the Forestry Commission. The funding
partners of this survey are DEFRA, the Forestry Commission, English Nature,
Woodland Trust, the British Trust for Ornithology and the RSPB. Other WBG
members include:Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Scottish Natural Heritage,
Countryside Council for Wales, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Central Science
Laborotory, Game Conservancy Trust, Forest Enterprise, Forest Research and The
Edward Grey Institute of Oxford University.
2. The national Wildlife indicator is one of the Government's 15 headline
indicators of sustainable development, forming a 'quality of life barometer' to
measure everyday concerns like housing development, health, jobs, air quality,
educational achievement, wildlife and economic prosperity. Wild birds occupy a
wide range of habitats, are relatively easy to monitor and tend to be near or at
the top of the food chain. The national Bird Index is already available for the
year 2000 and was published by DEFRA on 19 December 2001. A statistical bulletin
(no 218/02) about RSPB/BTO research was published by DEFRA on 11 June 2002 about
regional Wild Bird Populations in England. Provisional results for England's
regions were published by DEFRA (www.defra.gov.uk) on 21 June 2002, NR 237/02.
3. For photographs and broadcast-quality footage: photographs of woodland birds
are available from RSPB Images in digital or traditional format by contacting
Wendy Hollis on 0207 253 5411 e-mail
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