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Migratory birds on brink of extinction in Britain

(Left to right) Nightingale, cuckoo and turtle dove numbers are all in decline Photo: ALAMY
Many common migratory birds face extinction in Britain unless ministers and farmers help tackle a conservation crisis, ornithologists have warned.
They said a lack of food and nesting sites was contributing to dramatically lower numbers of species including the turtle dove, cuckoo and nightingale.
A UN official warned birds were struggling to find sustenance for long migrations, particularly because of industrialisation and dry weather in Africa. Other species are being illegally shot over countries including Malta.
Experts want ministers to encourage farmers to make more provision for birds to feed and breed on their land, and to urge foreign leaders to protect species migrating through their countries.
The warnings coincide with World Migratory Bird Day, a UN scheme to raise awareness about the vulnerability of species that embark on long journeys each year between breeding and wintering grounds.
It is held on the second weekend of May at the height of the migration season, when many species have already returned to Britain, but more birds are thought to be on the move around the world than at any other time.
Data from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds show that turtle dove numbers in Britain have declined by 95 per cent in the past four decades, and those of the spotted flycatcher by 88 per cent.
At the current rate of decline, the charity warns, the turtle dove could be extinct in the UK by the middle of the next decade. With other migratory birds, it is considered particularly vulnerable because of its long journeys.
Grahame Madge, an RSPB spokesman, said: “For millennia, the birds which visit the UK and the northern hemisphere each spring have been regarded as beacons of an advancing summer. But now these birds are representing a rapidly escalating conservation crisis, as the numbers of many species are declining dramatically.”
Borja Heredia, head of the avian unit at the UN Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species, said: “We are very concerned. If we don’t take any action, maybe we will not hear the call of the cuckoo or the skylark in the future. This would be very sad.”
Migratory birds tend to arrive in Britain around April. After nesting and breeding, they depart around October. The turtle dove, osprey and nightingale generally travel more than 2,000 miles to West African countries such as Mali and Nigeria, while the Arctic tern has been found to fly up to 11,000 miles to Australia.
RSPB and UN officials believe that in the UK, a lack of food and a shortage of safe nesting sites due to farming practices means some struggle to breed.
Abroad, the birds face hazards on their migratory routes ranging from illegal shooting in Malta to deforestation and the degradation of land in Africa due to oil exploration and other industries.
Mr Heredia said the Sahel, a green belt spanning Africa south of the Sahara, was a key “stopover site”, but “degradation and desertification is affecting [it] in a way that means birds are not finding the necessary food”.
He added: “Many of them do not arrive because they cannot make it, and of the ones that arrive they don’t have enough energy to build the nests and raise a family.”
The condition of land in the UK was “equally important”. Mr Heredia said governments such as Britain’s should do more to provide safe habitats by encouraging “more respectful agriculture”.
Natural England said it was addressing the decline in projects including the development of an “extensive network” of protected areas. The Government said the EU birds directive provided “robust protections”, but compliance was up to member states and the European Commission.
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