“The last two months of the year bring with them beauty in the changing colour of the autumn leaves. However, they also bring scarcity of food for our countryside wildlife. We can all play a role in looking after our birds by providing them with sustenance in the garden or in our local green spaces.

Our small bird populations are declining

The number of British birds has decreased considerably during my time as a farmer. 25 years ago, I could typically spot between 1,500 and 2,000 lapwings sitting on fields around Deeping St Nicholas. They would feed on the insects and slugs who were feasting on the remains of the oilseed rape crops. Today, I will only see around 200 on the fields nearby.

I used to spot a few hundred meadow pipits feeing on our organic clover field, but they are no longer present. Continental birds arriving on the sea bank and Holbeach Marsh are fewer and far between. In the last 60 years, swallows have declined by around 90% in my village.

The decrease in bird and insect numbers are closely linked. You don’t need to be a specialist to observe that we don’t get flies on the front of our car windscreens like we used to. Inevitably, this has contributed to the reduction in bird populations.

Indeed, I would estimate that, across the board, I only see about 10% of the birds that I would have 50 years ago. I know that the UK Forestry Statistics published in September pointed to a 7% decrease in farmland birds since 2015 - you can read the CRT’s response here.

Some predators and larger birds are on the rise

Conversely, 60 years ago there were fewer badgers, foxes and otters in the village than there are today. And larger birds and predators like carrion crows, magpies, buzzards, kites, marsh harriers and lesser black backed gulls are all increasing. So certain wildlife is, in fact, doing very well. Seeing raptors soaring above the village is a very fine sight indeed.

Our lifestyle suits these animals and has contributed to their rise. Free range hens, reared pheasants, dustbins, fisheries, roadkill, to name but a few examples. All these contribute to a surplus of food sources for some species.

If we were able to weigh all the wildlife today and compare it to 60 years ago, perhaps we would find the weight was actually very similar. While that might reassure people who are, through no fault of the own, less informed, I am someone that works closely with the land, and I know that what humans are doing is catastrophic to wildlife.   

Making changes

We cannot continue to cut down trees, forests and rainforests forever. Anything that we can’t do forever is, by its nature, not sustainable. If we continue to do things that are unsustainable, the damage accumulates to a point when the whole system collapses. No habitat, however big, is secure now that our way of living has developed to where it is. We must make changes.

We are now waiting for our winter visitors to arrive, the fieldfares, ducks, geese and the shore birds. I expect that they will arrive in good numbers as they have been breeding where humanity has not yet trashed the environment - the arctic.”

 Nicholas Watt MBE, Chairman of the Board of Trustees