Todays blog is written by Georgina Chandler, the RSPB's Global Policy Officer, on the huge declines in bird species across Europe...

A new study on breeding birds in the EU and UK shows one out of every six birds over nearly a 40 -year period has been lost. Overall, we have lost around 600 million breeding birds since 1980. This is not just our rarest birds but worryingly we are seeing massive decreases in more common and abundant bird species. The largest drop in population is seen in the house sparrow with 247 million fewer individuals, followed by yellow wagtail with 97, starling with 75, and skylark with 68 million fewer individuals. Bit by bit our nations birds are fading in number.  

A species target to halt the decline in Birds? 

We need further action on restoring nature to halt the loss of birds. The climate talks in Glasgow came to an end at the weekend with a mixed bag of results - some great strides for nature, but the overall ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ does not go far enough to adequately address the needs of those suffering on the front line of climate change. Attention now turns to China in spring 2022, where a second crucial UN environment summit will be held (The Convention on Biological Diversity or “CBD” COP15) which hopes to put forward a new plan to halt and reverse the loss of nature by 2030.  

As part of the new set of global biodiversity targets under the CBD, the RSPB and BirdLife International are advocating for strong outcomes for species. An ambitious global Goal that not only looks at preventing extinctions and recovering our rarest species but commits countries globally to bend the curve of population abundance loss by 2030.  

Species abundance is important to monitor and take action to recover because the loss of common and abundant species implies damage to our ecosystems, upon which humanity depends. 

Action on the key drivers of natures decline

As well as a target to reverse these devastating trends in species loss, we need to tackle the key drivers of declines. We know in the UK that our agricultural and land management practices are a key issue – especially in driving the bird population declines we see in this new study - and globally this driver sits alongside pollution, climate change, invasive species, and overexploitation of nature.  

A new global framework for nature must deliver ambitious targets to protect the most important places for nature (30% of land and sea by 2030), tackle these drivers of loss, and be supported with sufficient finance and resource to help countries achieve the targets.   

Nature friendly farming as part of the solution

The recently passed Environment Act 2021 makes a huge stride forward by its inclusion of a legally binding target in England to halt declines in species abundance by 2030.  This “net zero for nature” marks a global first and we now urgently need to see similarly ambitious legislation from the other countries of the UK. However, setting a target is just the first step; bold and transformative domestic policies are needed to ensure ongoing species declines like that of the House Sparrow are halted and reversed. 

The four countries of the UK now have a once in a generation opportunity to recast agricultural policies to support a transition to truly nature positive farming systems that would help the loss of species. Crucially, nature positive farming does not mean choosing between nature and profitability, in fact, farming with the grain of nature has significant business benefits.  

In England, the Government will not be able to achieve its has just passed into law a target to halt the loss of species abundance by 2030It cannot achieve this target without a set of ambitious environmental land management schemes (ELMS) that reward farmers and land managers for taking widespread action for nature. We are deeply concerned that Defra is watering down the ambition of these schemes and putting more species at risk of decline and extinction from the country. 

We are calling on Defra to get this scheme on track to ensure farmers are properly rewarded to help species such as the House Sparrow and Starling thrive.