RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Future is bleak if people don’t do their bit for birds

AS YOU wander around this week’s walk on the eastern edge of Amberley Wildbrooks you will be looking at one of Europe’s hot-spots in the fight against the catastrophic decline of bird species.

Much of the area is managed by the RSPB for wetland birds and plants.

The reserve is home to some of the birds which in a new report by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in partnership with the RSPB and International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) are in such serious decline that they are expected to become extinct.

The new European Red List is compiled from reports across the continent by thousands of volunteer bird watchers who report directly to relevant national co-ordinators in different countries. Lapwing, kingfisher, Bewick’s swan, and turtle dove are among the birds which the RSPB protect in the Wildbrooks and which may become extinct in Europe soon.

It is truly amazing for me to hear that such birds as lapwings are seriously threatened.

Yet I only have to think back a few years to the Sussex downland fields of the 1970s to remember how almost every big wide open arable field near Chichester had these wonderful inland waders breeding in the cornfields but not any longer.

Then one thinks of kingfishers, which I as a boy saw everywhere on rivers and streams and then in winter along the coastal fringes. The hard winter of 1963 hit them hard, so did the brief winter of 1980.

They could cope with that if their breeding places (sandy banks into which they tunnel to nest) were still there.

Canalising of water courses for flood relief brought an end to these.

Floods are due to meddling with drainage systems on uplands as well as global warming.

The RSPB give winter homes to the smallest of our swans, the Bewick’s as do the Arundel Wetlands Trust while the majority go to Slimbridge in Gloucestershire so that is another good job done.

Turtle doves of course breed in dense thickets and woodland around the edges of the RSPB reserve.

In total, 67 out of 533 bird species are threatened according to Birdlife Europe, which is the European parent body covering the 58 countries of the whole of Europe. Many of the birds threatened with extinction are ocean species such as puffin and long-tailed duck. The list makes shocking reading.

Thank goodness however for the sterling work done in this country and especially in Sussex by those bodies mentioned as well as Natural England, Sussex Wildlife Trust, the Chichester Harbour Conservancy with its local Friends including those at the West Wittering Estate who manage one of our most important lapwing and golden plover wintering grounds in the county: well done.

The more help that you can give to them the less catastrophic this bleak prospect described may be.