Ben Macdon­ald

Man­ag­ing land­scapes, food chain and habi­tat is key to re­vers­ing the de­cline of UK birds

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: BEN MACDON­ALD

Why we face a stark choice over how we pro­tect our birds dur­ing the next 30 years

THIRTY YEARS FROM now, the UK will be fac­ing one of two sce­nar­ios when it comes to bird pop­u­la­tion. It is en­tirely our choice which of the two ‘di­ary en­tries’ below are writ­ten in the year 2046 – and be quite clear; both are en­tirely pos­si­ble. Be even clearer, there will be no middle ground.

We will ei­ther think big; re­al­is­ing land­scapes, food chains and var­ied habi­tats on a large scale, or think small, and in try­ing to save the last few postage stamps of habi­tat, and their birds, watch them slip through our grasp as they iso­late and fade. So it up to us, as con­ser­va­tion­ists, to catch up with ev­ery other first-world coun­try – from Amer­ica to Ger­many – and re­build our wild places, for good. If there is one key to lo­cal sur­vival in de­clin­ing birds, it’s food. But if there is one key to pop­u­la­tion sur­vival, it’s con­nec­tion – re­tain­ing land­scapes, with many birds, in one place. This is the largest, long-term chal­lenge we face, if, in 30 years’ time, that se­cond di­ary en­try is to be the more likely of the two. Habi­tat is about giv­ing birds a home. Food is about keep­ing those birds and their young alive. Con­nec­tion is about keep­ing pop­u­la­tions alive – decade af­ter decade, cen­tury af­ter cen­tury. You can have habi­tat, and you can have food; but with­out con­nec­tion in a pop­u­la­tion, ex­tinc­tion will al­ways fol­low. Iso­la­tion is ex­tinc­tion. Many of us know that Wolves need con­nec­tion and space in or­der to hunt, den, find new mates and re­tain so­cial co­he­sion. Some packs need 1,500 square kilo­me­tres as a con­nected home range. Con­nec­tion is a ne­ces­sity for all our birds, not just our res­i­dents, but also the small­est of mi­grants.

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