our strategy

coal tit in garden
Coal Tit

A seemingly insurmountable number of threats face UK songbirds. Yet, by finding ways to ameliorate these threats, and cascading the knowledge, we can make a positive impact.

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Despite the practical difficulties in recent times posed by Covid-19, we are achieving real progress, punching well above our weight to stand up for the little birds. Our strategy recognises that songbirds can only thrive if the ‘three legs of the conservation stool’ - food, habitat and predation - are balanced. The science that we fund addresses all three.


Due to a multitude of pressures, the population of songbirds in the UK has fallen by a staggering 50% in 50 years. Species such as the tree sparrow, which were once common, have become rare sightings.

As human beings, we are the planet’s apex predator, with unrivalled power either to support or destroy biodiversity. As such, our charity’s mission since we were established in 2001 is to improve, protect, preserve and restore the population of songbirds (and other small birds) in the UK for the benefit of the public, and for nature in its widest sense.

We do this by educating the public - educators, other NGOs, policymakers, landowners, farmers, and others - about this decline. Also, by funding independent scientific research into how and why it is happening, and what steps are needed to preserve the UK’s dawn chorus - nature’s way of reassuring us that ‘all is well’ in our environment.

“We are a nation of songbirds, yet their voices are being silenced with every year. Now is the time to prevent extinction of the species we cherish. Songbirds are ‘the canaries in the coalmine’ when it comes to UK biodiversity.” - Sue Morgan (CEO)

Discover our PromisesRoyal Welsh Show - SBS stand. Keith Cowieson meeting Minister


    Whilst we are a small charity compared to the likes of the RSPB and the BTO, we nonetheless listen, and by the same token, we wish to reach and influence a range of audiences to have an impact. These audiences include:

    • The public (young and old, rural and urban)
    • Educators (families, schools, colleges, universities)
    • Climate change – e.g. more extreme weather such as drought, which affects songbird feeding and breeding
    • Other NGOs / charities Industry (including, importantly, farmers, land managers and game keepers)
    • Policymakers
    • Others
    mother and child birdwatching

    Factors affecting songbirds

    We believe that the results of the independent scientific studies we fund - if acted upon - can be used to have a positive impact on songbird numbers, but we must be realistic about the wide range of factors at play at play, from climate change and species shift to land use and human populations.

    Climate change – the long term, inexorable threat influencing natural systems in predictable ways e.g. more extreme weather events, and in unpredictable ways (e.g. changing bird migration patterns) Policies – post Brexit e.g. CAP’s replacement by new Agriculture and Environment Bills, with a departure from ‘payment for food’ to payment for ‘public goods’ including wildlife; a move towards multifunctional farming; ELMS (Environmental Land Management Scheme) which encourages farmers to take action on environmental sustainability).

    The law – e.g. changes to rules concerning protection, designation, culling of predators (both avian and mammalian) to restore balance between predators and prey, Land Use – e.g. urbanisation-induced habitat removal, ribbon development of villages and towns, loss of green garden space.

    Agricultural practice – e.g. intensification or monoculture approach to farming/forestry which can reduce nest sites and food availability; increased and inappropriate use of pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilisers and thus soil degradation; soil compaction; reduced cover crops in winter; existence or absence of wildlife-friendly corridors (urban and rural e.g. railways, road verges), hedges, edges, headlands, rewilding and floristic margins

    Species shifts – e.g. due to climate change-induced drought, more extreme weather, earlier/later harvest times, pressure on food sources, birds are shifting to different latitudes. One example is the blackcaps now over-wintering in the UK)

    Inertia, lack of interest, ignorance – e.g. the cutting of hedges during nesting season, unwitting disturbance of nesting birds by leisure-seekers, general inertia which sees ‘business as usual’ endure instead of active, positive and inclusive change

    Population growth of humans – competition for space, food, water and other resources: The UK population was around 55m fifty years ago, compared to nearly 68m in 2020.

    “Funding independent scientific research gives policy makers the chance to make policies around the science. Governments listen to science if it’s truly independent.” Jake Fiennes, Director of Conservation, Holkham National Nature Reserve  

    The Issues IG
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    Rebelling from extinction

    In a post Covid-19 era, humans the world over have come to realise that ‘Our health is our wealth’. Similarly, the planet’s wealth can be measured through its biodiversity. Yet, we exist in an era of mass extinction driven by human impact: the earth is getting poorer – fast – with a million species threatened with extinction.

    In June 2020, the UN proposed an annual target for species loss of just 20 plants or animals per year. If our charity prevents just one songbird species from going extinct, we will be winning, and so will Planet Earth.

    The charity’s vision is to see a resilient and balanced UK songbird (and other small bird) population, sustained through sound management strategies. Our aim is to fuel such strategies (plus the policies and laws that encourage them) with top quality scientific findings.

    SongBird Survival’s research, since first commissioned in 2007, has been wholly independent. It is carried out purely by experts at top universities whose teams help to identify the knowledge gaps - rather than by ‘in-house’ experts. This avoids being ‘prescriptive’. Our research is funded by members and donors, without calling upon the public purse, at an average cost of £100,000 per year.  

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    To help our birds cope with the challenges climate change provides, we also have some tips to making their life easier, with our top five below. For more information, check out our advice pages.

    • Provide clean water throughout the year  In the summer months we are experiencing drier spells, and in winter freshwater freezes, so check on your water baths daily. 
    • Provide fresh food in clean feeders throughout the year  Birds can struggle to find food especially in the winter months so providing a haven in your garden is so important. 
    • Encourage biodiversity Plant insect-friendly flowers and plants and forget the pesticides to allow insect life to flourish. 
    • Create a bio-friendly garden Provide shelter, water, natural nesting materials and food options such as berry bushes and seedheads. 
    • Get others involved Influence your friends and family to look out for songbirds in their gardens, support our work, donate and fundraise so that we can fund more research in ways to combat the decline of songbirds.  
    Tree sparrow feeding nestling in tree hole nest
    Tree Sparrow

    Threats to songbirds

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    There are multiple threats that songbirds face, many of which are intrinsically entwined, making it hard to separate or prioritise them. They include:

    • People / population – e.g. lack of knowledge or interest amongst the general population, inertia, a fixed (rather than an open) mind-set.
    • Policy - lack of flexibility within agri-environment schemes which prevents farmers from ‘taking ownership’ and making the policies work for their farm, excessive bureaucracy and slow progress
    • Climate change – e.g. more extreme weather such as drought, which affects songbird feeding and breeding
    • Changing land use – e.g. urbanisation leading to habitat loss; intensification of agriculture; over-use or poorly managed use of pesticides and herbicides; too few hedges, ploughing too close to hedges, cutting hedges at the wrong time, limited headlands and wetland
    • Predation – of chicks and birds, raiding of nests by birds of prey, corvids and mammals (cats, grey squirrels, stoats, weasels, badgers etc)

    Please follow the link to learn more

    Our priorities

    There is no more complex system than the natural environment. Reducing the number of one species, intentionally or otherwise, will always have a knock-on effect on others. This complexity makes long-term decision-making extremely hard. No individual or group can provide the ‘perfect’ ecological balance, alone: it is incumbent on us as the dominant species to do good research, listen and collaborate with those who can help support songbird populations in the UK.

    The internationally renowned ecologist and conservationist, Dr Dick Potts, conceived the idea that there are ‘three legs to the conservation stool’: habitat, food and predation. Our charity focuses on all three.

    In the past, we were known to focus narrowly on predation when few other organisations were prepared to, for fear of ‘ruffling feathers’ or alienating potential donors. Yet, even the most initially cautious or sceptical about the need for predator control, such as naturalist and broadcaster, Mary Colwell, have been persuaded by our findings that control of certain predators is essential to achieve a healthy balance of species. We now live in what many see as a ‘squeamish’ and sanitised society where death is ‘taboo’. Despite this, we are one of the only charities that stands by the need to fund top quality scientific research into the effects of predation on songbird populations to understand the 50% decline in 50 years.

    "We were the first bird charity unafraid of flagging the issue of predation. Mercifully, others are now beginning to follow.”  Tom Leicester, Trustee

    “There’s no point talking predator control if most of your chicks are dead before the predator even arrives! The science has tended to look at problems in isolation, yet, most problems in nature are multi-faceted. Predation, whether it’s via buzzards or magpies, won’t be the sole reason something is disappearing.”  Tom Streeter, Ex-Chair and Farmer

    SBS lead Dawn Chorus walk for IDCD
    Willow Tit
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    Changing mindsets, cascading the science

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    We believe in funding scientists at the best institutions to plug the knowledge gaps, and thus help direct better decision-making as far as songbirds are concerned. Good science is the touchstone on which decisions are made by government, but it also filters down to all levels of decision – such as where to position a bird feeder, how wide a verge to leave unmown, or whether to let a cat out at night to go hunting.

    Whilst we follow the science, we should also give as much credence, if not more, to the first hand evidence of those who live and work in the countryside - experienced land owners or land managers who experience nature from a practical, rather than a scientific, perspective.

    Through the academic studies we fund, we educate and advocate using scientific findings to inform a wide range of stakeholders, including (but not limited to):

    • The public – young and old, urban and rural
    • Land-owners
    • The Media
    • Educators
    • NGO's / other charities

    Our communication plan includes targeting and educating new generations to appreciate and support songbirds through a rich programme of social media, alongside media outreach about our campaigns and research.

    Expert advice

    We help make a positive difference for songbirds by providing practical expert advice and information on ways in which to protect and support birds and wildlife in your gardens and local environment.

    Please follow the link to learn more

    Educational campaigns

    We help make a positive difference for songbirds by providing practical expert advice and information on ways in which to protect and support birds and wildlife in your gardens and local environment.

    Please follow the link to learn more

    Discover our Promises
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    Halupka, L., Borowiec, M., Neubauer, G., Halupka, K. (2020) Fitness consequences of longer breeding seasons of a migratory passerine under changing climatic conditions. Journal of animal ecology. 90: 1655-1665.

    Lehikoinen, A., Lindström, A., Santangeli, A., Sirkiä, P.M., Brotons, L., Devictor, V., Elts, J., Foppen, R.P.B., Heldbjerg, H., Herrando, S., Herremans, M., Hudsdon, M.A.R., Jiguet, F., Johnston, A., Lorrilliere, R., Marjakangas, E-L., Michel, N.L., Moshøj, C.M., Nellis, R., Paquet, J-Y., Smith, A.C., Szép, T., van Turnhout, C. (2021) Wintering bird communities are tracking climate change faster than breeding communities. Journal of animal ecology. 90(5): 1085-1095. 

    Marrot, P., Garant, D., Charmantier, A. (2017) Multiple extreme climatic events strengthen selection for earlier breeding in a wild passerine. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 372: 20160372. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2016.0372 

    Marrot, P., Charmantier, A., Blondel. J., Garant, D. (2018) Current spring warming as a driver of selection on reproductive timing in a wild passerine. Journal of Animal Ecology. 87: 754-764. 

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    Thomas, C.D., Lennon, J.J. (1999) Birds extend their ranges northwards. Nature. 399:213.

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