Jack sparrow looking for a tasty treatIn all the coverage about insect loss being responsible for the alarming decline in house sparrows, not one journalist has asked 'so what?"

The answer is that house sparrows may be small, brown & grey and, well, a bit common. But they are chirpy, happy little birds that add sound and movement to many people's lives. They are part of the natural world and part of our culture. Their loss would indicate that we simply don't care, and I firmly believe we as a society do give a damn if a species starts heading towards extinction.

The RSPB research that has linked house sparrow decline with insect loss actually proves another thing. Birds are a top-indicator - an early warning system - of when things in our environment start to go wrong. Falling sparrow numbers were recorded well ahead of reports of insect and moth declines. Being at the top of the average UK food chain, birds are uniquely placed to alert us when our surroundings start to fail. If we lost house sparrows, we'd all be poorer. It is more serious if we continue to lose insects. Insects help keep the plant world ticking over and provide food for a wealth of other creatures.

So what can we all do? Lots. The good news, most of the things we can do are easy, free or very cheap. Allowing nature a bit of a free hand in our gardens and parks is a good starting point. Planting ivy, holly, native trees, shrubs and flowers is the next step. All of these support native wildlife. Creating different areas in your garden will support different types of wildlife. A discrete pile of leaves; a loggery; water feature; lawn; hedges and flowers. All of these will be home to different types of butterfly, moth, beetle or bird.

If you want to see a sparrow, this coming weekend, weather permitting, will be your last chance to visit our sparrow watch at Bernie Spain Gardens on the South Bank.

Of course, if climate change is not addressed then our world will change and we'd lose vast numbers of species, including a lot of us humans! Resolving insect and sparrow loss seems easy when compared with the juggernaut of climate chaos. Last Friday a group that advises local government planners across London, the South East and East of England urged development of high-speed rail links so that more people can get to our expanded airports to fly. Using rail links to reduce air travel is more financially and environmentally sensible. Increasing airport capacity is utter madness.

Anonymous
  • The sparrow really is a canary in a coalmine telling us that something is seriously wrong. It is not only farmland birds which are in dire straights but also our garden birds which depend apon seeds and insects. I believe that a key factor not mentioned is the the British obsesion with tidyness, both within gardens and farmlands. These birds need weeds and the insects which depend apon them. I live in a wild area with few trees and bushes but a healthy sparrow population. They spend much of their time pecking around in weeds such as docks, thistles, dandelions etc.. tacking both seeds and insects. Unless we can become les tidy as a nation I fear for the future of our passerine birds , and the flora and funa which form the ecosystem that supports them.