In the cold months of winter, the sounds of swifts screaming overhead may seem a distant memory, but a new report shows the numbers of swifts and house martins spending summers in the UK continues to fall. RSPB England's Sara Humphrey looks at some ways in which we can help them, and other bird species, to recover.
We have lost over half of our house martin population (-57%) since 1969 and the number of swifts in the UK has fallen even faster, with over half of the UK population (-58%) disappearing from our skies in the last 25 years.
Swifts, house martins and greenfinches have all been added to the UK Red List today, taking the total of Red Listed birds to 70. You might be surprised to find out that other familiar birds like house sparrows and starlings were added to the UK Red List in 2002 and have stayed there ever since.
It can be hard to understand just how big the threats to nature are when we still listen to swifts overhead in summer and count house sparrows and starlings on our Big Garden Birdwatch. Reports like Bird of Conservation Concern help provide the evidence we need to show how much impact the Nature and Climate Emergency is having on our UK wildlife. House sparrows and starlings may be regular garden visitors in your local area, but across the UK, they are struggling to find the food and nesting spaces they need, so their overall numbers are falling. The new Birds of Conservation Concern 5 report reviews decades of data on over 200 bird species found in the UK, telling us which ones are doing well and which are struggling to survive.
We know that threats like climate change, habitat loss, changes to farming, pollution and poor food availability are having a devastating impact on our wildlife. At the RSPB, we undertake landscape-scale conservation projects on our reserves and beyond, to create breeding and feeding habitat for some of our most threatened species including curlew, black-tailed godwit, and little tern.
Yet for some species, providing nesting sites near where you live could really help too. Swifts and house martins both like to nest using man-made structures. Groups of swifts seek out the cracks and crevasses in old buildings and will nest in the same spot year on year if possible. Installing swift bricks or swift boxes near existing colonies can really help local swift populations to thrive. House martins also nest on man-made structures, building their own mud nests under the eaves of buildings. You can also encourage them to nest by installing specially designed cups which mimic natural nests. Both species feed on flying insects, so adding pollinating plants and ponds to gardens or community green spaces may also help insect eating species to find food during summer months.
Another way you can help our threatened wildlife is to volunteer!
Conservation organisations, including the RSPB, have helped halt the declines of birds like stone-curlew and bittern, which were once on the Red List but are currently at Amber status. Volunteers play a vital role in helping us protect and monitor birds, both in the countryside and in urban areas. You could get involved in habitat management on reserves, undertaking national bird surveys or even mapping urban swifts! Any time or funding you can spare will help us to deliver more vital conservation work and provide a lifeline for our most threatened species.
To read more about Birds of Conservation Concern 5 and a full list of the birds at threat, you can find the detailed report here
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