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.
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)
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
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.
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.
There are multiple threats that songbirds face, many of which are intrinsically entwined, making it hard to separate or prioritise them. They include:
Please follow the link to learn more
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
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):
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.
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