Friday, January 28, 2011

Culling of the crow: Predators will be destroyed in bid to save songbirds


Menace? Predators like the carrion crow are to be culled to halt the decline of songbird species

Scientists are to cull crows and magpies to find out whether they are wiping out the nation’s songbirds.

A dramatic decline in farm and woodland birds over the past 50 years has been linked to rising numbers of avian predators.

If the study finds a link, it could lead to a much wider cull extending to protected species such as sparrowhawks and buzzards.

Conservation charities are bitterly divided over the decline of some birds species.

Prey: The numbers of songbird species such as tree sparrow (left) and corn bunting have more than halved since 1970

Skylark and tree sparrow numbers have more than halved since 1970, while lesser spotted woodpeckers and willow tits are down by a quarter. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds blames changes in farming techniques, including more winter-sown crops, the destruction of hedgerows and the loss of wild flowers.

But Songbird Survival, which is funding the £88,000 cull, blames larger birds.
Between 2003 and 2008, farmland birds fell by 7 per cent, it said, despite billions of pounds being spent on farmland environmental schemes.

Killer: Sparrowhawks prey on 50 million songbirds a year but are a protected species so cannot be culled

Over the past 30 years, populations of species that kill songbirds have doubled. The number of sparrowhawks, which kill around 50million songbirds a year, has gone up 152 per cent, while magpies, which steal chicks and raid nests for eggs, have seen a rise of 98 per cent.

Nick Forde, of Songbird Survival, said: ‘There are lots of factors causing the decline in farmland birds, but to say it is only habitat loss and farming methods is misleading.

‘The environmental grants for farmers are turning farms into a paradise for songbirds, but they are also turning them into a paradise for predators.’ The two-year study, being carried out by the Game and Conservation Wildlife Trust, will select four pairs of farmland sites in England, Wales and Scotland.

Researchers will count songbirds, magpies and carrion crows in the spring and then cull the predators in half the sites.

The predators will be trapped using a cage that contains a live bird. Other magpies and crows will flock to the cage to see off the rival, only to become stuck inside. They will then be humanely destroyed.

‘The robin population has increased by 52 per cent since 1970, long-tailed tits have increased by 89 per cent and the great tit species by 90 per cent.’ Mr Forde said the RSPB was turning a blind eye to the threat of predator birds for fear of offending its membership.

‘They don’t want to alienate people who might think twice about leaving money to an organisation that culls certain species of birds,’ he said.
Landowners are allowed to humanely capture and kill magpies and

crows to protect game birds. However, killing a sparrowhawk is punishable by a £5,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

source: dailymail

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