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PANUPS: UK Bird Population Declines

                         P A N U P S
                   Pesticide Action Network 
                        North America
                       Updates Service
                   EMAIL: panna@panna.org

September 15, 1997

Sharp Decline in UK Bird Populations

Bird populations in many regions of the U.K. have declined 
dramatically in the last 25 years, according to a report by 
the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The 
report links pesticide use with declining populations in a 
number of bird species. It says that elimination of food 
sources -- not direct poisoning -- is the main threat to 
birds from pesticides. Other reasons for the decline may be 
related to changes in agricultural practices, such as making 
silage instead of hay, thereby removing food and cover for 
bird and insect populations earlier in the season. Winter 
cropping, in which farmers use pre-emergent herbicides to 
"clean" fields, may also be a factor by reducing over-
wintering habitat for birds.

According to the report, pesticides can reduce birds' food 
sources in three ways:
-- Insecticides may reduce the abundance of invertebrates, an 
important food source during the breeding season.
-- Herbicides may reduce the number of host plants, reducing 
the numbers of invertebrates that depend on them.
-- Herbicides may also reduce the abundance of weeds and 
seeds which provide food for birds in winter and for some 
species during breeding. 

Bird species that show a serious decline in populations 
between 1969 and 1994 include: tree sparrow (89% decline), 
gray partridge (82%), turtle dove (77%), bullfinch (76%), 
song thrush (73%), lapwing (62%), reed bunting (61%), skylark 
(58%), linnet (52%), swallow (43%), blackbird (42%), and 
starling (23%).

The RSPB report showed that butterflies, moths, beetles and 
grasshoppers were more prominent in the diets of bird species 
that were declining, while species that were stable or 
increasing had diets consisting primarily of woodland type 

Pesticide use in the U.K. has been steadily increasing since 
the early 1970s. Ministry of Agriculture figures show that 
cereal crops are now sprayed with six times as many 
fungicides as in the 1970s and twice as many herbicides. 
Frequency of pesticide applications on cereal crops has 
nearly tripled in the past 25 years.

The report makes several recommendations for changes in 
agricultural practices, including that farmers be encouraged 
to switch to organic practices and that regulators set 
targets for reducing pesticide use. It also called for better 
monitoring of pesticide impacts on invertebrates and plants, 
more research on the ecology of individual bird species and 
large scale experimental studies assessing the effects of 
pesticides and other agricultural factors on wildlife. 

The Pesticides Trust (a UK-based non-governmental 
organization) commented on the report by calling for a 
drastic reduction in pesticide use to slow the decline in 
bird populations. The organization stated that it is now time 
to consider a tax on pesticide use in the UK and severe 
restrictions on targeted products that may most affect 
biodiversity -- such as broad spectrum organophosphate 

"The Indirect Effect of Pesticides on Farmland Birds" was 
prepared by BirdLife International, Butterfly Conservation, 
the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Oxford University, 
Plant life and the RSPB on behalf of the Department of the 
Environment, Joint Nature Conservation Committee and English 
Nature. Available from Natural History Book Service Ltd, 2-3 
Willis Road, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 5XN, UK. UK$10 (ten pounds) 
plus UK$2.50 shipping and handling. 

Sources: Living Earth: The Magazine of the Soil Association, 
July 1997. The Pesticide News, June 1997.

Contact: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The 
Lodge, Sandy, Beds, SG19 2DL UK; phone (44-176) 680 551.
The Pesticides Trust, Eurolink Centre, 49 Effra Road, London, 
SW2 1BZ, UK; phone (44-171) 274 8895; fax (44-171) 274 9084; 

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