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WHERE ARE ALL THE BIRDS?

We have lived in this first-floor flat for over 10 years. The flats are built along two sides of open space, with a large lawn, hedges, shrubberies, and trees, including two old beeches and a horse-chestnut. Each ground-floor flat has a small garden, one of which we overlook. Our neighbour has flowers and shrubs and bird-feeders. It is a very pleasant arrangement. But over these ten years we have been struck by the decline of the number of birds.

Ten years ago, we had blackbirds quarrelling over their territories on the lawn, to feed on the worms; there was a song-thrush that sang in the mornings, and a missel-thrush that left the broken shells of snails on the path; there were robins, tits, and sparrows queuing or fighting over the bird feeders; and many visitors, goldfinches, greenfinches, long-tailed tits, wagtails. Now all we hear is the dreary mooing of wood pigeons; all we see is magpies on the lawn; yes, there are just a few of the small birds on the feeders, a visiting crow, a kite circling in the air. Where have all the birds gone?

It seems to be the same with the insects, and perhaps the two are connected. On a summer evening not so long ago, if we kept the windows open with the lights on, the room we would be invaded by daddy-long-legs and moths. No more. What has happened to them all?

It seems to be the same out in the countryside. We have a favourite seat underneath a hedge on a country lane. We look out over woods, fields and hedgerows, but the world is still and silent: neither sight nor sound of birds, no insects or flies, not even on the cow-pats in the fields. I have not heard a cuckoo or a yellow-hammer for years. What has happened to the world? A pair of swallows have nested this year in the church porch and raised some young. But here we are, well into September, the telephone and electricity cables in the village used to be lined with rows and rows of swallows and house-martins, and the air full of swifts, ready to migrate. Now only our family of church swallows are to be seen. Will they survive migration alone? Who knows?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I am distressed. I guess it is something to do with modern farming methods, with its use of pesticides and herbicides. But is that all? I know that there are examples of people rewilding their fields or estates. But can we rewild all our fields and estates, and still provide ourselves with all the food we need?

I miss the birds and their songs, and I even miss the insects, knowing how vital they are too.

_____

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