In its latest review, the RSPB has added four more names to its red list of Britain’s endangered bird species.
Three of them are shockingly familiar: swifts, house martins and greenfinches, all regular visitors to the reserve, have been red-listed because of catastrophically reduced numbers. Our swift and house martin populations have been more than halved since 1995 and greenfinch numbers have fallen by a terrifying 62% following an outbreak of the disease trichomonosis.
 Swift in flight  House Martin repairing a nest
There are now 70 species on the red list, categorised as being of highest conservation concern. That is almost a third of our 245 native species of bird and nearly double the 36 species that the RSPB red-listed at its first such review, 25 years ago. Beccy Speight, the chief executive of the RSPB, who co-authored the review, has said that Britain’s wildlife is in freefall.
We know that loss of habitat and the increasing scarcity of invertebrate food is contributing to the failure of swift and house martin numbers in the UK and we know what we should be doing about it. But these are migratory birds and we don’t understand so well the impacts of changing habitats and food availability either along their migration routes or in their sub-Saharan wintering grounds.
For both swifts and house martins however, improving breeding success here in the UK is vitally important if they are to cope with the demands of a changing climate. There can be real and immediate improvements if UK farmers and land managers will make the necessary changes to increase the availability of insect food: reduced pesticide use, the planting of species-rich headlands and hedges, the restoration of old ponds and water courses where waterflies breed.
 A swift nesting box  House martins like to nest in colonies so put up more than one nesting box.
We can help. We can encourage the biodiversity of our gardens and neighbourhood green spaces; we can put up specially designed nesting boxes. We can ask the council not to blow away the dead leaves that are providing winter shelter for the larvae of hundreds of species of the flying insects that both swifts and house martins will need to raise their nestlings. We can demand that the planning department approve no more applications for new buildings that don’t include swift bricks or eaves sufficient to shelter a house martin’s nest or estates that don’t include ponds and lakes where flying insects can breed and martins can find the mud to build their nests.
This is personal now: there have always been swifts shrieking around the houses in Trowbridge and house martin nests beneath Southwick’s eaves. It’s time for action.
The beautiful header image is by Jack Chase.