Little Sparrow

Spring will be silent: "vertiginous" decline of country birds.

The National Museum of Natural History and the CNRS are sounding the alarm: less than 60% of tawny sparrows in the last 10 years, a third of the skylarks that have disappeared in 15 years... Birds in the French countryside are victims of a "dizzying" decline, which has intensified even more in the last two years, according to new censuses. "The spring of 2018 promises to be silent in the French countryside," the two research institutions warned in a joint press release on Tuesday, March 20, estimating that "this decline is close to an ecological disaster.
En agricultural areas, bird populations have lost on average one third of their numbers in 15 years, as shown by the surveys conducted since 1989 by the "Temporal Monitoring of Common Birds" (Stoc), which, within the Museum, also monitors the situation in towns and forests.
"We're not taking a big risk by saying that agricultural practices are the cause of this accelerating decline, told AFP Grégoire Loïs, deputy director of Vigie-Nature, which oversees the Stoc, because birds do not decline at the same rate in other environments. "There's a slight decline in the rest of the territory, but nothing to see in terms of magnitude."he adds.
In agricultural areas, species such as the skylark, the whitethroat warbler or the ortolan sparrow have lost on average one individual in three in fifteen years. In Ile-de-France, the Turtle Dove is approaching -90%.
Another study, carried out by the CNRS since 1995 in the Deux-Sèvres region, on 160 areas of 10 ha of a cereal plain typical of French farmland, is driving home the point. "Bird populations are literally collapsing on the grain plains." says Vincent Bretagnolle, an ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chizé. "Partridges are almost extinct in our study area..."
According to this research, in 23 years, the lark has lost more than one out of three individuals (-35%), the grey partridge has lost eight out of ten individuals...

A collapse that is happening right before our eyes

"What is alarming is that all birds in the agricultural community are regressing at the same rate. This means that the overall quality of the agricultural ecosystem is deteriorating, analyzes the researcher. 
Large or small, migratory or not, all species are concerned, probably due to the collapse of insects.
"There's hardly any bugs left, that's the number one problem." underlines Mr. Bretagnolle.
Because even granivorous birds need insects at some point in the year for their chicks.
This massive disappearance is concomitant with the intensification of agricultural practices over the last 25 years, more particularly since 2008-2009, a period that corresponds to the end of fallow land imposed by the Common Agricultural Policy, the surge in wheat prices, the resumption of massive recourse to nitrate and the widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides, add the CNRS and the Museum in their press release.
According to Mr Loïs, the situation is similar in Europe, particularly in the west of the continent.
According to two recent studies, Germany and Europe have lost 80% of flying insects and 421 million birds in 30 years.
French scientists wonder about the reasons for the "very strong acceleration" of this decline observed in 2016 and 2017, and at this stage, largely unexplained. This led them to issue this joint press release on Tuesday, without waiting to see their studies published in a scientific journal.
"It feels like there's some kind of collapse happening right in front of us...« said Mr. Lois. "Is this acceleration linked to the multiplication of factors? To a new harmful agricultural practice that has not yet been identified? Has a threshold been crossed?"
Is there any reason to fear a "silent spring", like the "silent spring" predicted by the famous American ecologist Rachel Carson 55 years ago about DDT, which has finally been banned? 
"If this situation is not yet irreversible, it is becoming urgent to work with all the players in the agricultural world, and first and foremost farmers, to speed up changes in practices", call the Museum and the CNRS.
Source: AFP

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