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WMN opinion: Fruitless to play the blame game as bird numbers fall

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 10, 2013

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Anyone familiar with the countryside will know that certain bird species have declined alarmingly in recent years. The cuckoo, easily identified, at least by its call, is perhaps the most noticeable to have virtually disappeared in the past decade or so. Lapwings and grey partridge will also be missed by many.

So the Government's plans to switch a proportion of farming subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy from production to conservation look well-made. While demands for food have soared and farmers are under pressure to feed a fast-growing global population, their role as custodians of the countryside remains vital.

That said there is often a knee-jerk reaction from conservation groups of all kinds to automatically blame farmers and the intensification of food production every time there is a report of species decline in the wild. That is unfair. Farmers are probably doing more today than they have done for decades in maintaining habitats for wildlife.

More building, environmental pollution, soaring traffic levels and a whole range of factors outside of agricultural influence are also to blame for a drop in the number of certain bird species.

Predation by species that are thriving – including corvids like magpies, crows and rooks and some birds of prey – have also had an impact on songbird numbers, for example. And ground-nesting birds have been affected by other changes in countryside management, the consequences of which are not always taken into account until it is too late.

Some conservation organisations find it difficult to publicly acknowledge the need for countryside management that must occasionally include culling of one kind or another. Yet the truth is, in our managed environment, it is no accident that some species thrive because others that predate upon them are vigorously controlled.

For most conservation bodies good habitat is seen as the key to maintaining a wide range of bird life and there is no doubt that without the right places to live some of our best-loved bird species will never thrive. The key to improving on these statistics and helping re-build bird populations that have dramatically declined is through co-operation with a range of individuals and organisations. Let's end the blame game.

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