Biodiversity and birds: How can we get our ecosystems back to health?

It seems there is always some mackintosh in the media waxing lyrical about some vital species of insect or animal, bird or flower declining in numbers. If it’s not the bee, it’s the birds and if it isn’t the birds, it’s the fish, and so on. It can be easy to turn away from the information in front of us with a shrug of our shoulders and a sigh of indifference, but changes in our habitats really can affect us all and there are ways we can actively help.

At Scents of Nature, we know as well as any of you that it’s hard to know what to do for the best sometimes where the environment is concerned. If you change one thing to benefit one species, another may suffer. It can be tricky to see the wood for the trees so to speak in terms of biodiversity. Well, we’ve done a little research and we thought we’d share some verifiable difficulties that our native species of wildlife are facing and demonstrate some practical tips and tools that we can put do to help the problems. No soapbox shouting here, just statistics and facts.

There actually is an issue with bird numbers declining in the UK but not all species are affected. Some bird varieties are even growing in numbers, which is fantastic. However, bird numbers is not the same as bird diversity (i.e. how many different species we have in the UK). According to the RSPB, “there has been a serious, countrywide, decline in the numbers of many birds, including many well known and loved species such as the song thrush, skylark, lapwing and house sparrow.” Whether you’re a Twitcher or not, you can surely appreciate that the potential loss and extinction of a species of life is sad to contemplate. Bird diversity is directly linked to habitat diversity so a decline in species richness is also an indicator of wider problems.

The Woodland Trust provides a concise explanation of why we should care about our habitats: “Biodiversity is critical to our lives, too. Species, and the ecosystems they form, make all aspects of human life possible. We depend on the natural services healthy ecosystems provide for every breath of air and every mouthful of food. Our whole society and agricultural system, relies on the biodiversity of pollinators, soil organisms, natural predators of crop pests and many more.” Woodland habitats are extremely important for our air quality. If we want to breathe clean air (and I expect we all do) then it’s not just a case of planting more trees. We need the birds and insects to pollinate and carry the seeds so trees and oxygen-giving plants can reproduce. We also need the grubbier creatures and microorganisms to maintain soil health and PH levels so flora can thrive. A small change in the balance can be disastrous for our air quality and subsequently, human health.

So why are some birds declining and not others? What are we doing differently? Research carried out by the RSPB suggests that it may be primarily down to changes in farming habits. We have long known the effects that industrialised farming has on wildlife. We know that with more efficient and bigger faming machinery, the fields must also get bigger which results in fewer miles of hedgerows in the country. Crop spraying also has devastating impact on insect populations which are a key food source for birds. Does it really matter though? It can’t make that much of a difference, surely. You can see the percentages of some specific bird population losses since the nineteen-seventies on their website, some of which are as high as 95%, but the RSPB also has this to say about the link between modern farming and bird population: “Many people don’t think this would be the reason for the decline of birds in suburban and urban areas. However, as 80 per cent of this country is farmland, what happens there will affect birds in all habitats. This is especially true of urban populations, since in most cases, the urban and suburban populations are an overspill from the better habitats in the countryside.” So, we can understand from this that changes to farm habitats are affecting all other habitats too. That is quite alarming.

This is all very upsetting, certainly but what are we to do about it? Most of us probably don’t own farms or have a say about what local farmers plant and how they manage their land, although if you are a farmer, then you might find this resource helpful to learn which hedgerow shrubs and trees are most beneficial to wildlife on your farm. So, what can the general public do to help our bird populations recover? Well, here are some practical ways you can make a difference to our feathered friends.

  • The big birdwatch – Even if you’re not that into birds, you can help the RSPB to understand the extent of the decline of bird species by contributing one hour of your time this coming January. Perhaps you could watch out your living room window one morning on your day off or even re-purpose your lunch hour by finding a spot in a park to count birds. Information can be found here about how to get involved in the Big Garden Birdwatch. One hour of your time can make a real difference.
  • Hedge your bets – In your own garden, you might be able to make your own hedges more wildlife friendly. The RSPB have some great suggestions of shrubs and hedging plants which are good for encouraging biodiversity.
  • Trim responsibly – It’s much better for the birds if you don’t trim your shrubs during nesting season (March to August) and leave brambles until every berry has gone before chopping back.
  • Feed the birds – Maybe you already feed garden birds through the winter and buy food for them. Love the Garden have useful ways you can feed some birds with leftovers from your kitchen or grow plants which offer birds good food in the Summer to sustain them for the cold season.

The Woodland Trust explains that we need to protect our woodland habitats for the wildlife who live there. “The UK’s woodland is home to a wealth of wildlife, from shade-loving plants and delicate fungi, to nesting birds, elusive mammals and rare insects. Ancient woodland in particular supports more species than any other land-based habitat in the UK.” So, if you are planning any autumnal wellie walks this month, why not make it a woodland walk, and support our beautiful forest habitats. Scents of Nature are lovers of all-natural landscapes but our passion for woodlands must shine through because our nature-inspired woodland scent is one of our most popular products. View our range here.