Birds: One in four species in Wales 'in serious trouble'

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GreenfinchImage source, Getty Images
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Greenfinches are among the birds added to RSPB Cymru's red list of declining species

One in four bird species seen regularly in Wales is in "serious trouble", the latest assessment has revealed.

Familiar birds such as the swift, greenfinch and rook are among five added to the red list of declining species since the last report in 2016.

RSPB Cymru's report on 220 species put 69 on the green list (not in decline) 91 on the amber list (moderate decline) and 60 on the red list (needing help).

Its head of species Julian Hughes said this should be a "wake-up call".

The number of birds on the red list has more than doubled since 2002 - from 27 to 60.

The corn bunting and corncrake have been declared extinct as breeding birds in Wales, while the marsh harrier and bittern have returned following two decades of wetland restoration.

The future of many upland, grassland and wading birds such as curlew, redshank and lapwing remains of major concern.

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The red kite, which went from the amber to green list, is seen as an example of how nature can recover

"Nature needs us more than ever before" said Patrick Linley, senior ornithologist at Natural Resources Wales (NRW), explaining how "birds are a good indicator of the state of our natural environment".

"Our skies are starting to become silent," he warned.

"If you were to go back 20 or 30 years, for every 10 breeding curlew you would have heard in the skies, you will probably only hear three today."

Amid all the bad news, he said there was "real hope" as red kites had recovered from the verge of extinction in the 1980s to "about 2,500 breeding pairs in Wales".

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Wales' top ornithologist, Patrick Linley says birds such as the curlew are disappearing quickly

Work commissioned by NRW suggested the curlew could be on the verge of extinction in Wales in the next decade without urgent intervention.

"We really have to fix this and fix this urgently," Mr Hughes said.

He said the proposed sustainable farming scheme for Wales would be important "because so many of our wild bird species are dependent on farming activity".

The report said a rapid decline in number of breeding rooks and of wintering purple sandpipers, which along with the deteriorating global status of Leach's petrel, saw those species jump from green to red in just six years.

Image source, Getty Images
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The curlew could be extinct as a breeding bird in Wales by 2033

Swifts have moved to red and house martins to amber for the first time after changes to their nesting habitat and flying insect food sources in both Wales and Africa.

A severe outbreak of the parasite-borne infection trichomonosis was a main factor in the decline of the once-familiar garden bird the greenfinch.

It is now on the red list after after a population crash of 71% since 1995.

Image source, Getty Images
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The number of greenfinches, once a common site in Welsh gardens, has dropped by 71% in 27 years

Experts said bird population assessments demonstrated the importance of long-term monitoring and the participation of volunteers.

Kelvin Jones from British Trust for Ornithology Cymru said birdwatchers needed to get involved.

"They're not difficult surveys. Most people have got the ability to do it, they just need a little bit of a confidence boost and a push. But it's the easiest way to give back to nature."

Image source, Getty Images
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Rooks have gone from the green list of least concern to the red list of declining species

Dan Rouse, an educator for Tadorna Wildlife, based at the Botanic Gardens of Wales, said people could help reduce the impact of bacterial infections on birds with good practices such as "move your feeders around, clean your feeders every week or every other week with hot water and Fairy liquid".

A Welsh government spokeswoman said: "We are in a nature emergency and are committed to meet at least the 30 by 30 target, where we designate 30% of land, sea and freshwater for nature by 2030.

"We have tripled our peatlands targets to recover precious habitats for our birds and wildlife, and are working with Natural Resources Wales on projects to help critically endangered species."