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North-south divide revealed

Last modified: 22 May 2008

Goldfinch feeding on teasel

The goldfinch is increasingly rapidly in northern England, but has declined slightly in the south east.

The publication today by Defra of bird trends across regions of England shows that the UK government will face difficulty in meeting its target of halting wildlife declines by 2010, says the RSPB.

Dr David Gibbons, the RSPB's chief scientist, said: 'The results show that in some parts of the UK bird populations are decreasing rapidly, setting the government an almost impossible challenge to honour its commitment to halt wildlife decline within two years.'

In 2001, the European Union heads of state agreed that wildlife declines should be halted by 2010. However, population trends between 1994 and 2006 for woodland birds, farmland birds and native birds for each Government office region, show that bird populations are decreasing rapidly across parts of the UK.

Ups and downs

The figures show that across England, the populations of farmland birds and woodland birds fell by seven per cent, but the corresponding figures for some regions exceeded these figures considerably. The all-native species index for England rose by six per cent.

The greatest declines of both farmland and woodland birds have occurred in South East England, where populations of both groups of birds have plummeted by a fifth since 1994. Declines of 10 per cent were recorded for both groups of birds in South West England. But, in the three regions of northern England, the populations of both groups of birds showed either modest or significant increases.

Dr David Gibbons, added: 'The steep declines of some of our most-familiar farmland and woodland birds is extremely depressing. The most rapidly declining species in South East England include familiar countryside birds like the grey partridge, turtle dove and corn bunting, whose populations all crashed in the region by more than half.

'However, there is more welcome news from northern England, where some formerly rapidly-declining birds, like the tree sparrow, have approximately doubled in number.

'Today's results paint a mixed picture for birds across England, but they do show that some species are still declining rapidly with no hint of recovery. Even some species that are recovering, like the tree sparrow, will have a long way to go before their populations reach the levels of the 1970s.'

For each Government office region, Defra has produced three indices: farmland birds; woodland birds; and an 'all native species' birds indicator.

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