Dear Readers, in my latest copy of British Wildlife, there’s a link to the British Trust for Ornithology’s new ‘Doorstep Birds’ site. You can plug in your postcode, and it will tell you what bird species have been lost from your area, which are declining, which are increasing, and which are colonising. So of course I popped in the postcode for my house in East Finchley, and here are the results. The site compares the 1968-72 Bird Atlas with the 2007-11 one, so the results are not the most up to date, but it’s possible to click on a particular species to look at more recent information on trends etc. The area covered is also not the most granular – it covers from East Finchley in the north east of London to Shepherd’s Bush in the south west. However, it has some very interesting findings, in terms of not only what has been lost, but what has arrived.
On the deficit side, it appears that the area no longer has breeding skylarks or barn owls (though I do note that an individual barn owl was spotted on Hampstead Heath earlier this week, so maybe they’re making a comeback). We used to have grey partridges and cuckoos, yellowhammers and tree sparrows, rooks and nesting swallows, and these had all disappeared by 2011. Surprisingly, it seems that we also had grey partridges. I find the loss of the nesting swallows particularly sad, as I’m fairly sure that this is avoidable – surely we could make space for these birds to make their nests? And the missing rooks are something of a mystery, although these are birds that largely eat worms and leatherjackets and other underground invertebrates, and between climate change increasing drought conditions, trees that used to host rookeries being cut down and generally less tolerance for large, noisy, communal birds it’s probably not that surprising.
On the plus side, however, some birds are colonising the region, and a mixed bunch they are too. We now have little egrets and sparrowhawks: the latter have been something of a success story, and are clearly taking advantage of our penchant for bird tables and bird feeders.
Other new birds of prey include peregrine falcons (who have long nested on buildings such as Tate Modern and the Royal Courts of Justice) and hobbies, small falcons with a liking for dragonflies.
Apparently kingfishers are back – they are certainly doing well at Walthamstow Wetlands, though this is outside my region, but I have also caught a glimpse of one flying along the stream in Regent’s Park. And it appears that nightingales are back too, with one being spotted in Barnes in south-west London a few years ago, at the Wetlands Centre.
In fact, I think that areas such as the wetlands at Barnes and Woodberry in north London may well be responsible for many of the colonising species, which include common tern and lapwing, shoveler ducks and gadwall, teal, garganey and shelduck. These areas were previously managed purely as reservoirs, but now there is also a strong drive to support wildlife and to increase biodiversity. It feels like a real case of ‘if you build it, they will come’. Who knows what the impact of increasing meadows and grassland, mixed woodland and wood pasture might be? It feels as if there are still possibilities, even now on the brink of climate and ecological disaster.
If you’re in the UK, have a look at the picture where you live, and see what’s been going on.