Habitats become increasingly fragmented by the building of roads, hedgerow removal and changes in land-use, leading some species to local extinction. 70% of 1,012 threatened bird species in a worldwide study showed that habitat loss was a major risk for their extinction.
These huge spaces are home to hundreds of plant and animal species, where the habitats are being destroyed to make way for urban sprawls. Even the habitats which are not completely destroyed, become increasingly fragmented or degraded as important features like hedgerows and trees are damaged or removed. You can also read more about hedgerows and the regulations in our wildlife law advice pages.
Urbanisation is especially difficult for migratory birds, who will travel a long way to reach their destination, only to find habitats have disappeared or become increasingly degraded. This can lead to population decline, as more birds attempt to share less resources if they are unable to find other suitable areas to over-winter or breed. House martins and swifts that often breed in the eaves of houses are more frequently finding a lack of suitable places to nest (due to changes to housing design and removal of older structures).
A lot of heathland habitat has been broken up by agricultural land, towns, and villages. This is detrimental to the at-risk species that live there, such as Dartford warblers who are very site-loyal. Likewise, unimproved grasslands have been disappearing, decreasing by 47% in 50 years in England. These same grasslands are home to many wildflowers, pollinators, and the feeding grounds of songbirds.
The changes to man-made habitat such as agricultural fields also have massive effects on populations of farmland birds. The phasing out of over-winter stubble has left many birds without suitable winter-feeding habitats. Reintroduction of these over-winter stubbles through agri-environmental schemes has been found to be beneficial to a range of declining species, such as skylarks, yellowhammer, cirl bunting, and corn buntings. Changes in farming are discussed more thoroughly on our agricultural intensification page.
Provide birds a safe place to live in your own garden or in your local area. Follow some of our tips below to get started
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (2021) Statistical Digest of Rural England, February 2021.
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Donald, P.F., Buckingham, D.L., Moorcroft, D., Muirhead, L.B., Evans, A.B., Kirby, W.B. (2001) Habitat use and diet of skylarks Alauda arvensis wintering on lowland farmland in southern Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology. 38: 536-547.
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Ministry of housing, communities and local government. (2019) Land Use Change Statistics in England: 2017-18, May 2019.
National Records of Scotland (2021) Mid-2020 Small Area Population Estimates, Scotland. NR Scotland National Statistics.
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Peach W., Lovett L., Wotton S. & Jeffs C. (2001) Countryside stewardship delivers cirl buntings (Emberiza cirlus) in Devon, UK. Biological Conservation, 101, 361-373.
Ridding, L.E., Redhead, J.W., Pywell, R.F. (2015) Fate of semi-natural grassland in England between 1960 and 2013: A test of national conservation policy. Global ecology and Conservation. 4: 516-525.
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