RSPB recruits farmers for starlings count

Starlings feeding in the snow, Kent Starling numbers across the UK have declined by 80% since 1979

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Farmers in Somerset and Gloucestershire are helping national bird charity the RSPB to investigate the decline of Britain's starlings.

Experts will research whether the birds have sufficient food and nesting sites in both counties.

Numbers across the UK have declined by 80% since 1979 and by nearly a third in the past 10 years.

Across Europe it is thought 40 million of the birds have disappeared over the past three decades.

"Our records show that we have lost more starlings across Europe than any other farmland bird," said Dr Richard Gregory, from the RSPB's bird monitoring section.

"Forty million starlings lost represents over 150 for every hour since the 1980s.

"This loss should be a wake-up call, because we ignore the decline of nature at our own peril."

'Practical' solutions

It is thought a loss of grassland through conversion to forestry land and the growing of crops could be linked to the reduction of numbers across Europe.

Stunning starlings:

  • "Black sun": Known for their spectacular aerial displays, a single migrating flock of starlings can contain one million birds or more
  • Garden bullies: Starlings can be aggressive and noisy in the garden but are impressive in the air
  • Clock-stoppers: Starlings were once so abundant in London that they could stop Big Ben by perching on it
  • Winter visitors: The UK's resident starlings stay all year, but are joined by visitors from mainland Europe in search of warmth in autumn and winter
  • Safety in numbers? See how birds of prey influence starlings' flocking behaviour

In the UK, the British Trust for Ornithology has said intensively farmed land made it more difficult for the birds to find their favourite food - cranefly larvae that live in undisturbed soil.

Martin Harper, the RSPB's conservation director, hoped the research would yield the answers to ensure the species has a secure future.

"Understanding exactly what is causing these declines will allow us to develop practical and cost-effective solutions for land managers and farmers," he said.

"These could then be delivered through wildlife-friendly farming schemes and other policy interventions."

Starling numbers have been tracked by the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch, the world's biggest wildlife survey.

Since it began in 1979, the average number of starlings spotted by participants has dropped from 15 to just three.

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