There is a theory that bird counts indicate the density of bird watchers in any given area rather than the number of birds.
There’s also a theory that – perish the thought of course – that any survey will confirm the views of whoever commissioned it whether it’s for a favourite brand of washing powder or the effect of salt intake on health.
That’s why surveys of farmland bird populations by the RSPB almost invariably claim decline while a recent one commissioned by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust using reports from 500 farmers is much more encouraging. I’m sure no one is deliberately distorting figures either way, but there’s still a touch of “take your pick” about results. Or is that too cynical?
The 500 farmers taking part in the survey have all made efforts in recent years to protect and encourage wildlife and birds by, for example, providing winter feed crops, growing wild seed mixes and providing sources of pollen and nectar to encourage the insects birds feed on. They found that skylarks, seen by 37% of the 500 farmers, yellowhammers and song thrushes are recovering from long term decline; I’m not sure about yellowhammers, but I’ve certainly heard more skylarks this spring than for a long time and seen more thrushes.
These three are on a red list of 11 threatened species; of others, only one lesser spotted woodpecker was seen, only two waxwings and three hen harriers. The most common species, seen by 87% of farmers was the blackbird, with woodpigeon seen by 86%, crows by 77%, starlings by 40%. I’m surprised, given their prevalence in our part of the world, that crows and pigeons weren’t 100%.
A spokesman for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust suggested that some wildlife groups, not necessarily the RSPB, had over-emphasised farmland bird decline while attributing it to intensive farming and changes in systems. He hoped the results of the trust’s survey would encourage farmers to do even more to counter those claims. Good luck.
Elsewhere, the hunt is on, backed by a reward of several thousand pounds, for whoever poisoned almost 20 red kites and buzzards in the Highlands during March. Based on past cases where convictions were secured it must be assumed that the poisoner is connected with game shooting interests - birds of prey kill grouse chicks so poison the killers before they can get at the chicks this spring is the thinking. I’m happy to be proved wrong, but if a gamekeeper or owner of a grouse moor or extensive pheasant shoot isn’t involved I’ll be surprised.
Closer to home a friend walking in the Lammermuir foothills recently took a photograph of more than 20 dead hares in a heap. I had no idea that hare killing was on such a scale or why they were left in a pile at the roadside. There are odd people about, some with guns.