Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Wildlife and environmental destruction: Why we protect land

13 July, 2009 - 17:02 -- John Burton

As we arrived at the office this morning I was reminded that it is important to always have the wildlife we are trying to conserve at the forefront of our thoughts. I was reminded, because over Halesworth in the midst of a large flock of swifts there was a Hobby hovering and chasing. A magnificent sight. But this year the number of swallows seems to be in free fall. Swifts, that most urban of species seems to be more abundant than I can recall in recent years (and bearing in mind that nearly 40 years ago, I was a real swift addict, catching hundreds of them to ring on a south London Sewage Farm, I have always taken a note of their relative abundance). This year plenty of swifts, but swallows and martins? Where are they? My explanation is not the unusual one of declining habitat, lack of nest sites etc. in Britain, but I would explain it by changes in their main habitat: Africa.

Swifts, swallows and martins spend only a few months of the year here in Britain and the rest further south, mostly in Africa. Swifts are extremely mobile, and often feed high over the rainforests of the Congo. The swallows and martins, feed much lower, and mostly in the Sahel (semi-arid tropical savanna and steppe) and other more open habitats, and that is where the habitat destruction is at its worst. And in agricultural areas, increased and often indiscriminate use of pesticides will also be taking a toll.

The same has happened in the New World. The migrant songbird numbers have crashed, not because of changes in Canada and the USA -- that mostly happened a century or more back, but because of what is going on further south.

I have not heard a cuckoo this year outside a reedbed. Once they were so common I heard them in the London suburbs where I grew up. Wheatears which were once so common they were sold in their thousands in the London markets are now since only in tiny numbers; and so the story goes on. Unless their habitats in the south can be protected, these birds may disappear from the UK for good. I think that the scale of this environmental disaster is still being wildly underplayed. What do you think?


Submitted by Anonymous on

Re environmental disaster see the report on Sharp’s Longclaw by birdlife international. There has recently been a lot of migration onto this land due to the ethnic segregation we saw on our TVs not long ago. There is some useful pictures here and on related pages of this site.
I wondered if your web man could put a link on the Sharp’s Longclaw appeal page to a pin on google map where the land is. I looked at google map the other day out of interest and it shows the land use round lake Naivasha in reasonable detail…. Very educational. It seems wherever you look in the world now the land is all subdivided into plots.

Re the swifts
I heard someone on radio saying swift numbers where down. Not to contradict your observation, which possibly has something to do with the condition of the roofs of the old properties of central Halesworth.

Submitted by Anonymous on


Submitted by Helena Akerlund on

Hi Anonymous. We have some maps from the area which we will add to the website soon. Our Google Earth layer will feature the project area as well in due course – please bear with us!

The maps, when available, will be accessable from

Helena (WLT web information manager)

Bookmark and Share

Read about us

  • News Online
  • RSS
  • eBulletin
  • Green Diary
  • Printed Newsletter

Contact Us

Tel: +44 (0)1986 874422

Follow us

Follow on Facebook  Follow on Twitter  Follow on Linkedin  Follow on GooglePlus  Follow on YouTube