A decline in bird populations across Europe has been highlighted as a major cause for concern by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which admitted it was surprised by the figures demonstrated in a new study.
The research was carried out at the University of Exeter and saw scientists analyse data on around 144 species of European birds collected in 25 countries. It found that there were more than two billion birds across the continent in the early 1980s.
However, this figure dropped by more than 420 million to just 1.64 billion in 2009, the authors reported in the journal Ecology Letters. Approximately 90 per cent of the decline was recorded in previously common birds such as sparrows, skylarks, starlings and grey partridges.
Indeed, according to the British Trust for Ornithology, grey partridges declined by 91 per cent between 1967 and 2010, while starling numbers have decreased by 66 per cent since the mid-1970s.
The study highlighted agricultural intensification and increases in urbanisation as major reasons for the significant drop in bird numbers, with habitats becoming more scarce and birds finding it difficult to feed and nest as a result.
"This is a warning from birds throughout Europe. It is clear that the way we are managing the environment is unsustainable for many of our most familiar species," said the RSPB's Richard Gregory.
Lead author of the study report Richard Inger warned that something must be done, adding that the loss of "common birds could be quite detrimental to human society".
The research also found that populations of robins, blackbirds, great tits and blue tits are increasing, which suggests that management techniques may be focusing too much on rarer, localised birds at the expense of more widespread species that are seen as common and therefore not in need of protection.
Graham Madge of the RSPB agreed that it is more difficult to bring in rescue measures for birds like sparrows "because it requires the rollout of broad, landscape-scale conservation measures".
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