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Don't cut your hedge between March and August to help Glasgow's house sparrows

Last modified: 17 February 2017

Male house sparrow in bush

House sparrows need open hedges to help them move around and hide from predators

Image: Steve Round

RSPB Scotland is calling on gardeners in Glasgow to put down their shears and take the hedge-pledge this summer in an effort to save the city’s struggling house sparrows.

These once common birds are in decline across the UK, but the population in Glasgow is thought to have dropped by 90% since the 1970s.

Since 2014, RSPB Scotland has been working with the University of Glasgow and a team of dedicated volunteers to track down any remaining sparrows and investigate reasons for the sudden decline.

One thing the project has uncovered so far is that remaining sparrow strongholds are clustered around gardens that have a particular sort of hedge.

RSPB Scotland’s Sarah-Jayne Forster said: “Our volunteers found little groups of sparrows living in all the areas that they surveyed, which is great news as it means there’s definitely hope for a long-term recovery. But the other thing they found was that 85% of the gardens where sparrows were recorded had lots of hedges or bushes.

“It also seems that the best types of hedges are ones that aren’t cut very often, which leaves the structure more open, and gives the birds a chance to move around and hide from predators. That’s why we’re asking gardeners in Glasgow to take the hedge-pledge this summer, and avoid cutting their hedges at all between the start of March and the end of August. It’s a really simple thing that everyone can do to help their local sparrows.

“This is the time when most of our garden birds are nesting anyway, and as it’s an offence to disturb or destroy an active bird’s nest, hedge-cutting really is an activity that’s best left for autumn and winter.”

If you’re thinking of putting up a nest box for National Nest Box Week, (which runs until February 21), you could also help sparrows by putting up two or three boxes in a cluster, as they prefer to nest close to each other in colonies.

Planting small areas of wildflowers in gardens can also help to attract insects for the sparrows to eat in summer, and provide seeds for them in winter.

Another part of the house sparrow project has seen RSPB Scotland working with volunteers to plant areas of wildflowers in plots around the city, including sites such as Maryhill Park, the Necropolis, and on school grounds. More of these plots are planned for this spring.

Joe Crossland, a volunteer with the project said: “House sparrows are one of those birds that I think most people will recognise, but it’s shocking they’re doing so badly. The brilliant thing about this project is that it’s providing practical advice that anyone can follow, which has the potential to make a real difference to sparrow survival in the city.

“It would be great if loads of people took the hedge-pledge this summer, and with a bit of luck, we’ll be able to report some positive news on the sparrow in the months and years to come.”

If you’d like to get involved with RSPB Scotland’s house sparrow project in Glasgow, or find out more about what you could do in your own garden, please contact Sarah-Jayne Forster, on Sarah-Jayne.Forster@rspb.org.uk or ring 0141 331 0993. You can also contact us through the RSPB Glasgow Facebook page or Twitter @RSPBGlasgow or use #hedgepledge.

How you can help

Nature in the UK is in trouble and some of our more familiar garden species are amongst those suffering serious declines. We can all help by giving nature a home where we live.

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