Songbird Survival - this is interesting

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I'm the RSPB's Conservation Director. My aim with this blog will be to comment on matters of conservation importance and give you a few insights into the RSPB's conservation work - there's plenty to write about!

Songbird Survival - this is interesting

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There's been a flurry of publicity for Songbird Survival over the last week - mostly in The Times.  This organisation, which I always think as being more anti-predator than pro-songbird, and anti-raptor in particular (but maybe I have got them wrong), may be funding the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust to cull some crows and see whether songbirds flourish.  Good luck to them - but I hope they take more notice of this research than they did of the research that they commissioned from the BTO which went some way to exonerate predators from being the cause of songbird declines.  That study doesn't seem to have altered Songbird Survival's views at all.

The Chair of Songbird Survival is Lord Coke.  Lord Coke hails from Holkham Hall.  The head gamekeeper at Holkham Hall was charged with several offences, including some under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, last week.  This has led to some interesting comments in some places (see here for example).  Lord Coke's father, the Earl of Leicester, is not the biggest fan of birds of prey, nor indeed of the RSPB.  As I say, interesting.

The article in the Independent makes the link between the head 'keeper being charged and the fate of the Holkham National Nature reserve.  That's an interesting point too.

  • Ravens eating sheep is horrific ?  Why ?    Surely the sheep are only there so that we can eat them ?

  • well, Mark, I've just read through the Country Illustrated Magazine article you gave a link to, and, most unexpectedly, ended up ROFL! It struck me as being so absurd it was hilarious! Here are people (many of whom are in Nationally responsible positions of various sorts) spending a fortune to rear, feed, and protect from predators,  a bird. Why? (here the imagination comes into play) I can hear them shout "I WANT TO KILL IT, it's not fair, It's MY bird, so I WANT TO KILL IT" ( and much stamping of feet)

    Homo Sapiens? enough said.

  • With the Thrush it would be interesting if Mark has any figures to suggest that as the Thrush has declined the Blackbird increased as I notice if the Thrush comes in the garden the Blackbirds soon bully it away and as they have similar food requirements it makes me wonder if that is the biggest reason.For sure we have masses of Blackbirds in our close and suspect even if some go back perhaps to Europe in spring we perhaps have a Blackbird nest in every garden.  

  • Mark, re your comment to EP "...then it's nature!" I suppose it can rather depend on whether you think man is part of nature or not! My view is that we stand apart. Where, by our actions, we have created a problem or an imbalance we are justified in trying to correct it, by habitat and other measures if possible but also by culls if need be. By the same token I favour habitat recreation, reintroductions of native species and eliminating potentially-invasive non-native species before they become a problem.

  • Seems we are not that far apart Mark,I support anyone against raptor persecution but we got pleasure from it and as I have said see no contradiction with that and my attitude to Magpies.Find it a minefield as it is said and probably true that Ravens in Somerset ate a sheep alive that was stuck in fence,obviously horrific.  

  • Maybe we should consider a feline cull?

  • Yes agree there Mark no way am I pro shooting just happens that out in the sticks and especially farmers tend to be shooters and in life sure you realise you cannot dislike people for one thing that is a legal pastime but have never shot anything since airgun days of 50 years ago and those days of course after the war which later generations would perhaps not understand were quite brutal times looking back on it.

  • One predator above all others, the domestic cat, of which there are an estimated eight million in the UK, are responsible for killing more song birds than all the other avian predators like the sparrow hawk and kestrel put together.

    Another interesting thought, why is that specific song birds for example the song-thrush has declined drastically over the last 20 - 30 years compared to other song bird species. Raptors like the sparrow hawk are non selective in their choice of song birds, therefore one would expect the decline of song bird numbers if due to raptor predation would be consistent in all song birds species!

    Terry Pickford

    North West Raptor Group

  • Sooty - and all those dead pheasants on the road and in the countryside are feeding magpies, crows and foxes too aren't they?  

  • Jockeyshield - interesting story about spotted flycatchers - they need all the help they can get.  Often grey squirrels are blamed for spotfly declines - but spotted flycatchers are declining in many European countries - and they don't have grey squirrels.

    Sooty - magpie control is legal and not opposed by the RSPB.  We don't necessarily believe it will be the magic bullet that some suggest.  We draw a very firm line at raptor-killing.

  • Crossed comments Mark and personally do not see raptors as a problem taking one here and there basically,problem is Magpies live on road kills all winter(nothing natural there)then in spring just in a similar way to Sea Eagles take live kills to chicks but of course the trouble is they need lots of easy small chick for big ravenous broods whereas Sea Eagle say only needs one wader a day for chicks.

    Whatever people try to say about we have motives for controls that is not the case in lots of instances and I know people who trap them simply to help songbirds in their area and they simply would not do that unless they strongly believed that it had a good influence in that area.

  • A friend told me of his nest boxes which had Spotted Flycatchers in was always robbed by Jackdaws. I told him to add conifer branches around the box to camouflage it. The following breeding season he had 3 broods leave the box!! Habitat is the key to successful populations not control. One Goshawk nest in Devon contained 68% Grey Squirrel prey but still shooting estates kill Goshawks. Is this study being paid for by the money the Queen gave to the Song Bird Society? And if it is can she remain as the RSPB's Patron?

  • neil sumner - very interesting points, thank you.

  • As I put on another part of this forum where like it seems the RSPB go that only loony Songbird Survival want some culling of predators.This is not the case at all as lots of my friends some shooters and no connection to any organisation except myself to RSPB and all live out in the sticks believe it necessary to control Magpies and I would say that where these shoots are have many more songbirds,while not belonging to S S we all believe control essential.

    This is fact that locally 160 Magpies together,now please do not say they will have no impact on songbird numbers over a large locality if they stay together.

  • essex peasant - welcome back.  But you never answered the question you were asked about whether you accept that there are fewer birds in the countryside now than there used to be.  I can check the exact wording for you if you like?

    There are plenty of 'countrymen' and quite a few 'country women' too in the RSPB.  

    Gamekeepers' jobs depend on the numbers of birds available to be shot in the autumn - so every single bird lost to a magpie or fox is one fewer potentially available to the guns.  That's not the business I am in - we depend on the number of pairs each spring and that is predominantly (not solely) determined by habitat factors such as nesting sites and food.

    There are circumstances where predators can drive down nesting densities - but it doesn't happen all the time. And if it did, then it's nature!  It's only when someone's economic interest gets threatened that we get het up about it.  So we aren't as adamant as you state.

    And let's base this discussion on the science.  The recent Songbird Survival funded study published earlier this year didn't suggest much of a problem.

    And then there is the fact that all raptors are lumped in together.  I've been told that white-tailed eagles would reduce songbird numbers - ehh?  And that buzzards are major predators of songbirds - ehhh?  Some of the proponents of the 'raptors are a problem' view are just anti-raptor - and rather ignorantly so in my opinion.  If they represent 'countrymen' then it's a pretty poor level of knowledge.  And it's interesting that SongBird Survival has a strong representation of shooting interests amongst its trusteees.

    Now I know that when you and I start discussions it can go on all night but I have to say that I need to be off in just a few minutes so I won't be swapping arguments all evening - sorry about that.

    And do you believe that there are fewer birds in the countryside than there used to be? Because if not then you clearly don't think that raptors are having an impact because nothing is.