Despite the best possible conditions, hundreds of species of bird are dying out before our very eyes. It may be too late for some – but action can still save others.
It is possible that part of my life’s work in conservation on the Pevensey Levels may be stained by failure.
At Montague, our farm on the Pevensey Levels in East Sussex, we have, for over 25 years, pursued best practice (according to relevant conservation agencies). Natural England have funded us throughout this period to conserve and restore the wildlife of the wetlands around us. We have necessarily conformed to their advice, fine-tuned creatively to the varied habitats across the farm and in the control of predators. Wilder landscapes have emerged, with increased areas of woodland, herb-rich pastures, fen, reedbed and flooded grassland. We have achieved a spread of a diverse flora and bucked the trend of declining insect populations. Otters were seen for the first time, this year, on one of our pools and we have legions of the formidable fen raft spider. We boast a bird species list exceeding 200 – and that’s where the problem starts.
Many of these birds are now declining or absent.
Despite providing the best possible conditions, populations of lapwing, skylark and yellow wagtail are falling year on year. Predation is certainly part of the cause, but is not the whole story. Cuckoos may have vanished by next year, redshank have not bred on the farm for the last two years and swallow swarms have reduced to small parties in the low tens. Flycatchers have not been seen here for 15 years, nor grey partridge. No lesser spotted woodpeckers nor marsh or willow tits. No corncrakes or curlews, wrynecks, ruff or shrikes.
The once annual kaleidoscope of avian treasure is decimated. They all should be here, yet they no longer come. Indeed, many no longer exist.