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Garden Birds at Risk   - Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Changes in gardening practices could be harming urban bird populations

A GROWING trend for low maintenance concrete, gravel or paved gardens may have helped to further reduce populations of once-common garden birds, many of which have plummeted over the last 30 years.

RSPB is concerned that such modern gardens may severely limit the availability of insects that birds including thrush, starling and sparrow need to feed their chicks. Recent studies have shown that a lack of insects to feed house sparrow nestlings is reducing survival rates.

In urban areas, where bird declines have been most dramatic, paving over front gardens to provide extra parking space is becoming increasingly common. More than one in five urban front gardens across the UK are now mostly paved, according to a report by the Royal Horticultural Society.

A surge in sales of decking witnessed over the last five years may also be a factor in the declines of insects and consequently reduced survival rates for fledglings.

The RSPB is using its annual Feed the Birds Day as a launch-pad for a UK wide drive to save the wildlife that shares our gardens.

Richard Bashford, the RSPB’s Feed the Birds Day project manager, said: “We are losing more and more of the natural environment around our homes, particularly our front gardens. Therefore it’s even more important that we help the birds by making whatever space we do have as wildlife-friendly as possible.

“Research has shown that even tiny front gardens or green verges are vital for urban wildlife, housing up to 786 different species of insect. We urge people to follow our five-point plan and help wildlife now and in the future.”

The RSPB’s five-point plan asks gardeners to:

· Plant a native shrub or climber such as honeysuckle, rose or ivy. These will not only look great in your garden but take up little space and will provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife

· Leave patches of long grass. This will provide a home for insects eaten by house sparrows and other birds

· Leave cutting back old stems of your herbaceous plants and annuals until the Spring. Not only will you be providing shelter for insects, the birds will also eat the seeds

· Ensure a supply of fresh water every day in a shallow dish, small water feature or if you have room build a pond! This will attract insects and aquatic plant seeds that birds can feed on, as well as giving them somewhere to drink and bathe

· Supplement natural food sources all year round with feeders and bird tables filled with nuts, seeds and household scraps. This will provide birds with alternative food if insects and plant seeds are hard to find.

Richard added: “The RSPB is still investigating the causes of declines and why bird populations aren’t recovering, currently there is no one factor this can be attributed to. However supplementing natural food with seeds and nuts and planting natural food sources for next Spring can only help.”

RSPB Scotland is running many free Feed the Birds Day events over the weekend of 28/29 October 2006. You’ll be able to pick up lots of hints and tips on what to plant, what foods to supply and you can even get messy learning how to make bird cake!

To find out more, go to http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/