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Rare birds thrive on brownfield sites
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A shocking report announced last week that the UK’s bird population has declined by 44 million since 1966. However, national charity the Land Trust has found that many rare and threatened bird species are thriving on its former brownfield sites.
Rare birds thrive on brownfield sites

The alarming decline in the country’s bird population was revealed in the ‘State of the UK's Birds 2012" report, which was carried out by experts from organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the British Trust for Ornithology, using data compiled from volunteers' observations of birds since the 1960s.

The report found there are an estimated 166 million birds nesting in the UK compared with 210 million in 1966.
Yet the Land Trust, a charity which owns over 50 open spaces around the country, has found that bird numbers on the majority of its spaces are very healthy.

Simon Pile, the Trust’s estates manager, commenting on the report, explained “What might surprise people most is that it’s our former brownfield sites which show the most diversity of species. Indeed, there’s been a number of rare species spotted in recent weeks; there is currently a little bunting at Elba Park which is a former coking work near Sunderland and six short eared owls are fascinating visitors to Rabbit Ings Country Park, which is a former colliery tip in Barnsley.

A few months ago a red backed shrike was seen at a former colliery site in Staffordshire, where only a few weeks previously an osprey had been spotted. Bitterns can be heard booming on other former brownfield sites, whilst in spring and summer the alarming decline of the skylark is well and truly bucked as a host of these iconic birds fill the skies.”

Bird populations are considered to be a good indicator of the broad state of wildlife because birds occupy a wide range of habitats and tend to be near or at the top of food chains. So a healthy bird population is a good indicator of biodiversity

Pile continued, “Although not as rare as the little bunting, bitterns or short eared owls it’s the skylark which really demonstrates the importance of brownfield land. Experts believe the decline overall bird numbers is largely down to changes in landscape providing less habitat in which birds can feed and nest. One such change would be the way land is farmed and, as such, birds that are reliant on farmed land, such as skylark, lapwings, cuckoos and turtle doves, have seen a significant decrease in numbers, according to the study. However, reclaimed brownfield land is providing a viable alternative home these birds. One small reserve in Derbyshire on a former coking works has 32 bird species classified as either Red List or Biodiversity Action Plan species (meaning they are endangered or threatened).”

“There are three key reasons why former brownfield land and in particular the Trust’s sites are rich in biodiversity. Firstly, brownfield land, because of its former use can often provide diverse typographies such as, shallow pools, margins, hedgerows, meadow or wetland. Secondly, nature is an innate regenerator, it often needs only the lightest of restoration touches to allow nature to thrive. Thirdly the Trust provides sustainable management and takes an informed approach that enables the preservation of existing habitats and the creation of new ones.”

He concluded, “Perhaps the most important message is that if we want to save our much loved bird population we need to challenge our obsession with greenfield and the green belt and look seriously at the ecological value of restoring and managing brownfield land .”

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