30-year bird watch reveals devastating impact of pesticides and fertiliser use on wild bird populations

30-year bird watch reveals devastating impact of pesticides and fertiliser use on wild bird populations

Soil Association responds to major new in-depth study of why birds are declining across Europe

The collaborative study, published in the journal PNAS, found the intensification of modern farming practices, using pesticides and fertilisers, has led to the decline of many bird populations.

Using data from 28 countries across a 37-year period, researchers learnt that common bird species have shown a general decline of 25% across the continent, including the UK.

Farmland species have more than halved over the same period - 1980 to 2016 - with woodland birds declining by 18%, urban dwellers by 28%, northern, cold-preferring birds by 40% and southern, warm-preferring birds by 17%.

Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan said:

“This is the most compelling evidence to date that the dramatic increase in use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers has been the most significant driver of the declines in bird species and numbers.

“It is particularly ironic that this comes in the week of the Prime Minister’s Farm to Fork summit and it underlines the need to take a system-wide view of the food and farming system to tackle the challenge of high food prices, low farm incomes, devastating declines in biodiversity and the harsh realities of climate change.

“Agroecological farming approaches – of which organic is the clearest and verifiable example – rapidly need to become the norm and rewarded for the public benefits it provides. We have less than a decade remaining for farming to break its reliance on pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. It is vital that farmers receive the help now that they need to get this transition underway.

“At the same time, citizens need support to shift to healthy and sustainable patterns of eating in tune with what the planet can support, and retailers and processors must be held to account for the way they produce and market food.

“It is frustrating that Henry Dimbleby set much of this out in his Food Strategy proposals last year which received a lack lustre response from government. We need to see the political parties showing a bold approach to how they will turn these ideas into policies that reverse the decline in wildlife and support farmers to make sustainable farming mainstream.”