Birds take flight... from our gardens

Starlings over North Pier at dusk. BELOW: Visitor services officer Julie Vale and Volunteer Ron Wilson at the RSPB ribble Discovery Centre at Fairhaven Lake.
Starlings over North Pier at dusk. BELOW: Visitor services officer Julie Vale and Volunteer Ron Wilson at the RSPB ribble Discovery Centre at Fairhaven Lake.
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YOU may have noticed something in your garden recently, or, more accurately, not noticed.

Birds. Our feathered friends have long been brightening up our backyards but maybe not for much longer if the current, startling decline in numbers continues.

Visitor services officer Julie Vale at the RSPB Ribble Discovery Centre at Fairhaven Lake.

Visitor services officer Julie Vale at the RSPB Ribble Discovery Centre at Fairhaven Lake.

According to figures released by the RSPB, the UK has lost an astonishing 44 million breeding birds since the 1960s - the number plummeting from 210 million in 1966 to 166 million today.

And the Fylde coast hasn’t escaped the decline. Bird numbers in Blackpool and the surrounding areas are falling.

The odd thing is that most people are probably blissfully unaware of the situation.

After all, venture to Blackpool’s North Pier of an evening and you will be rewarded with one of the most spectacular shows nature has to offer - more than 20,000 starlings swirling around at dusk each day in winter.

Volunteer Ron Wilson at the RSPB Ribble Discovery Centre at Fairhaven Lake

Volunteer Ron Wilson at the RSPB Ribble Discovery Centre at Fairhaven Lake

See that and you wouldn’t think there is any problem with bird numbers. But there is, though how many of us have actually noticed is open to debate.

There are twitchers out there among us but the majority of folk go about their daily business without giving two hoots, if you’ll excuse the pun, about our feathered friends.

For some in the resort, that is distressing.

Julie Vale is the visitors service officer at the RSPB Ribble Discovery Centre based at Fairhaven Lake in St Annes.

A self-confessed bird lover, she remembers playing at her grandfather’s allotment as a child and seeing birds everywhere.

“There were robins literally following him around,” she said. “You don’t get that any more and it is upsetting. But what is almost as upsetting is that many people haven’t even noticed the decline.

“People just seem less connected to birds and wildlife these days.”

Julie is doing everything she can to ensure that isn’t the case, by spending her days teaching adults and children about birds and their importance.

The RSPB centre at Fairhaven gets 55,000 visitors a year and runs mud-dipping sessions in the summer, where people are given a sieve and head out into the Ribble Estuary to find the shellfish, worms, snails and crabs that birds feed on.

More than 250,000 birds head to the Ribble Estuary each year, making it the second most important area in the UK for wading birds, like sanderlings, knots and black-tailed godwits.

There are also geese galore.

They come from Iceland and Greenland to spend their winters here, roosting on the south side of the estuary and flying over Lytham, Blackpool and Over Wyre each morning to feed on the fields inland.

“There are 20,000 on the land at the Blackpool airport alone, and that’s what most people aren’t aware of - how lucky we are in this area,” added Julie.

“We’ve got one of the biggest starling murmurations in the North West. If you go to North Pier about an hour before dark, you will see 20,000 starlings come together and form this huge swarm of birds (pictured left).

“It is an amazing display or acrobatics and if anyone was disappointed with the air show this year then I can promise them they won’t be with this - people should go and take a look.”

They should, especially as starlings are among the species of birds which have taken a hammering in the last 40 years.

Their numbers have dropped sharply - same with sparrows, whose numbers have shrunk by as much as 50 per cent since the 60s.

Chris Collett, responsible for promoting the RSPB’s work in the north, puts the reasons for the decline down to changes in land use, the climate, and the availability of food.

But the truth is that no one really knows for sure.

“We are researching exactly why we are losing birds because to be honest we don’t really know for sure,” he explained.

Not all birds are struggling. Blackbird numbers are stable, while sightings of collared doves, chaffinch and goldfinch have increased.

“But in general it isn’t good, in fact the figures are pretty horrendous - to have lost that number of birds in such a short space of time is worrying to say the least,” added Chris.

“Take Blackpool, it’s famous for the herring gull, the annoying one that nicks your chips. But they are actually a species we’re concerned about. Their numbers are declining.”

Back at Fairhaven Lake, Julie hopes the trend will stop.

“For the sake of the next generation it needs to,” she said.

“I live in South Shore and I do counts with my little boy of the different types of birds we get in our garden. We are definitely seeing less.

“The loss of habitat has to be one of the reasons. There just aren’t enough places for them to breed.

“The weather has also been against them - cold winters and springs so wet that it is very hard for birds to find food.

“We just have to hope the decline stops.”

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