Strange bedfellows

Followed the link to the February 2008 BTO Atlas newsletter today ( )  – a heartening read, right up to the bit about individual species getting sponsors and thereby raising money to support Bird Atlas 2007-2011. The BTO blurb says:

“Our aim is to encourage a wide base of support from companies, organisations and individuals, in line with our desire to involve the whole of the birding and conservation community in this powerful project. One look at the list of sponsors below indicates that this aim is beginning to be realised. Each sponsor has had a different reason for choosing their species and these have been as diverse as the species themselves.”

All very commendable. Reading through the list,




it’s great to see some BTO Members have personally sponsored species. Then there are water boards, ornithological societies, and… Songbird Survival. Good old Songbird Survival! “Working Hard to Save Britain’s Songbirds”. ( )

Great! Or alternatively, Town and country people throughout Great Britain who are deeply concerned about the effects of increasing predation on songbird populations”. (as above)

Increasing predation? Is that why there’s been a more or less wholescale decline in the breeding populations of Britain’s bird species? I would never have thought. But how wrong I am! It’s all the fault of hawks, and in particular Big Evil Hungry Sparrowhawks. These people are seriously fixated on Sparrowhawks. They haunt their dreams, lurking in the hedgerows of their subconscious and killing Yellowhammers to sate their unholy appetites.

 Big Evil Hungry Sparrowhawk  

I exaggerate, but only a little. Their website is littered with selective and out-of-context quotes designed to promote their hypothesis that since we stopped controlling raptors, and Sparrowhawks in particular, (which would surely include historically tried and proven methods such as pole-trapping, shooting, nest-destroying, egg-collecting and spraying gallons of DDT in the countryside), their numbers have exploded, and that increase (with a token nod to intensive agriculture) is precisely why passerine populations have crashed. Meanwhile us starstruck birders worship at the altar of the mighty Sparrowhawk, misguided (by the RSPB, no less) fools that we are:  

“That raptors have captured the headlines in recent years is indisputable.  Many bird-watchers are in thrall to them.  Since their recovery from the days when DDT and other noxious chemicals were withdrawn from use, raptors have been at the receiving end of something approaching adulation.  The Wildlife and Countryside Acts have provided them with full protection.  Their population levels in the UK are now very healthy.  Sparrowhawks have more than doubled their numbers to 40,000 pairs plus another 20-30,000 unmated juveniles; 400 pairs of Golden Eagles in Scotland; 100 pairs of peregrines now reside in the Lake district alone – virtually the maximum number that area can support.  They even nest on the south coast oil refineries and cathedrals.  All in all the picture is of raptors (including most owl species) doing very well.  

The RSPB have educated and, some might say, hyped up the whole issue of avian raptors.  The bird-loving public have responded with enthusiasm, but without possibly thinking through the consequences.  Many people fail to appreciate these farther pressures exerted on prey species of songbirds, waders, game birds and some seabirds, and that an explosion of raptor numbers has coincided with a huge increase in  mammalian predators; grey squirrels (which raid nests), foxes, feral/domestic cats, rats, stoats, even badgers and pine-martens.  The well known crow family predators; magpies, jays, carrion crows, are multiplying in both the countryside and urban areas.  At the receiving end are much loved songbirds, both resident and summer breeding migrants, and other ground-nesting birds; the lesser redpoll down 91%, tree sparrow down 97%, songthrush down 51%, skylark down 59%, corn bunting down 84%, even the starling down 82%.  Wader chicks take a hammering on many wetland and moorland situations as is well documented.” ( )

It’s not just the RSPB who’re misinforming you. Another Songbird Survival quote from their website: 

A typically misleading comment from a BTO spokesman” ( )  

Nice. It’s a good job those clever chaps at Songbird Survival are on hand to tell us what’s really happening:

“Landowners, and especially gamekeepers and shooting people, know perfectly well what is going on.  But the weight of propaganda pushed out by organisations purportedly set up to enhance biodiversity continues to deny the undeniable.  Predation levels are often out of control.”  ( )

  Yikes! What can we do, Songbird Survival? Tell us, do!  

“So what about the future?  Legislation currently leaves us in a straight jacket, and unless licenced control of some raptors is allowed, the position will get worse.  There are only about 4,500 gamekeepers in the UK.  Surely they should be re-badged as ‘wildlife wardens’.  They are the true custodians of bio-diversity in the farmed environment.  It is time that their role was appreciated far beyond their role as gamekeepers.” ( )  

Oh goody. I imagine those Big Evil Hungry Sparrowhawks need some particular attention, yes?

“Sparrowhawk populations need particular attention and some careful culling under licence.” ( )

Excellent. That’ll do nicely.

Further unintentionally hilarious reading can be found in their newsletters (think Daily Mail, but even more right wing and polarised – god help us all if there’s a ringing recovery of a Polish-ringed Sparrowhawk in the Home Counties anytime soon). The letters pages are as you’d expect particularly choice for Double-barrelled Outraged of Tonbridge Wells to indulge in a spot of RSPB-bashing:


( )

Surely Yellowhammer deserves better?

One Response

  1. Well said Bitter Bonxie, the Yellowhammer does deserve better and the BTO should know better.

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