House Sparrows. These chattering, chirping, chestnut balls of downy feathers have filled our neighbourhoods with their rapacious voices since the Stone-age. Once every city was erupting with them. Eaves of houses were stuffed with their crowded, hap-hazard nests. Busy chestnut blurs would dart over tarmac roads and decorate people’s ceramic rooftops like feathery baubles, common to the point of invisibility.
If you visited London, almost every park would practically overflow with these charismatic little passerines, probing their cropped flowerbeds for grubs, and perching on park benches chattering to one-another. Today, visitors to Hyde Park and many of London’s green spaces would be lucky to see one. In just 10yrs (1996-2004) London’s House Sparrows declined by over 60%.
All over Britain, the picture is similar. Gardens and parks once a-throng with these bubbly characters are empty. Urban hedgerows fat with squabbling black beaks and flurries of chestnut wings now sit unoccupied, skeletons of what they were.
Though poorly understood, due to lacking research, House Sparrows- appearing to have stable, content lives, are vanishing. The scarce research that was carried out prior to 1977 showed over 1/10 of their population disappeared every decade. Then, when detailed research was finally conducted 1977<, House Sparrows plummeted, with a 70%< decline 1977-2016. Today, we’ve lost over 21,000,000 House Sparrows, nearly 1 per minute. The culprits? Heavy air pollution, and dense monocultures of concrete, no longer relieved by a green speck of hedgerow or wildflower meadow.
Lawns are cut to unhealthy turfs, snatching the homes of their insect food. Ques of fossil fuel-burning vehicles stifle the air, damaging their delicate lungs. ‘Efficient’ infrastructure nor produces sleek, gapless, buildings, lacking the crevices where the Sparrows build nests. Cats allowed to roam free kill adults, starving their young. Climate change throws off their annual compass, and they try to raise young during Winter. A species shaped by people, yet they still can’t keep up with our pace of change.
House Sparrows aren’t an anomaly either; nearly half of wildlife populations have fallen since the 1970s, mammals on average declining by 50%, invertebrates by 40%, and Britain is now 40,000,000 birds less than it were in 1966.
Why? Because of the dangerous rate we’ve been urbanizing Britain. There’s no longer enough ‘wild’ left to support our wild animals. The only place wildlife is truly untouched is on our TV’s. And the problem is, that’s where many people would like it to stay. People enjoy wildlife at a distance.
However, when their lawn starts to grow with ‘weeds’ or a badger visits the garden, it becomes ‘vermin’ and ‘disgusting’. In order to give wildlife a fighting chance, we have to banish this outlook.
We need to start rewilding our urban landscapes.
With House Sparrows at least, this is where we hope to help. Sculpted by people for centuries, House Sparrows provide a unique starting point for rewilding our cityscapes and should be conserved. While COVID has done a brilliant job at destroying our original plans, we’re not waiting until it’s over! Currently, we’re focussing on advertising House Sparrow decline, and giving tips on how you can conserve them (if you’d like to find out about these, feel free to visit our website www.savethehousesparrow.com).
We’ve also got some active campaigns going on too. Currently, we’re organizing talks with MPs/councils to put in place some more wildlife-friendly management guidelines, to inject some much-needed biodiversity back into our urban green spaces. Or, if you have less time, we’re organizing various fundraisers (e.g. our most recent is a litterpicking one to help fund the brilliant Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s work) so if you find a cause you like, why not donate a bit of money to it?
Of-course even if you don’t support us, there are scores of wildlife organizations with ideas/tips on helping House Sparrows. It really is easy to help them because this time, we’re not looking at another decline happening off in a distant rainforest, or a bleaching event on a foreign coral reef, this is an extinction in our own back-gardens.
Thank-you for taking the time to read! This was an article written for the newly-released magazine, ConkerNature, and you can find out more about them by visiting their website below: https://www.conkernature.com/