Sheffield’s Birds – Racing against Modernity

Wednesday 30th March 2016

Firecrest copyright Amy LewisFirecrest copyright Amy Lewis

How modern farming practices and changing landscapes have pushed some birds to the brink while boosting numbers for others

In January we were lucky enough to have a visit from Richard Hill of the Sheffield Bird Study Group (SBSG).
He illuminated a packed audience with some surprising, and at times worrying, facts about the fate of bird populations around the Sheffield area.
The presentation was based on SBSG’s latest book, Breeding Birds of the Sheffield Area, including the North-east Peak District, A New Atlas 2003-08. This impressive tome sets out to compare the findings of the latest survey with data collected from the same sites between 1975 and 1980.


Winners and losers
It was good to hear that the research revealed a number of gains, including the distinctive Firecrest, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and the Stonechat (which has seen a massive 546% increase). While the Mandarin duck, declining in its home in the East, appears to have made itself comfortable in the reservoirs and rivers around Sheffield.
But as you might expect, the news was not always good. Key species such as the Lapwing and the Redshank have declined, while the Hawfinch, once relatively common in the 1940s, has completely disappeared from the survey area. Other major losses include the Twite (-93%), the Yellow Wagtail (-83%), the Corn Bunting (-96%) and the iconic Turtle Dove (-91%)


The land and its impact
It might surprise you just how much the unique and varied geology that encircles Sheffield plays a part in the success or failure of local bird populations. The surrounding limestone, gritstone and shale all contribute in their own way to the type of soil, vegetation and other wildlife in the region, as well as how the land is used.
It seems that land use - be it through the intensification of agricultural practices, the maintenance of local moorland, or decisions concerning commercial forestry - plays a key role in the fortunes of bird species.
It’s not only how the landscape is used that has an impact. Some birds face many trials as they travel to and from their winter vacation hotspots in southern Europe, Africa and beyond.


How we can help
Some of the work that the Trust has recently been undertaking, however, is pushing back against these regrettable losses. Wetland habitat created at Kilnhust Ings near Rotherham is expected to attract Lapwing and Redshank, among others, to the post-industrial site. And the important flood mitigation project at the Centenary Riverside is improving conditions for birds, butterflies and many other species.


The Trust also has specific species in its sites. Land management around Wyming Brook has included the restoration of Nightjar habitat, with the hope that it will go on to benefit Wood Warblers and Woodcocks. Staff have also been working with the RSPB at Fox Hagg and Blacka Moor to improve conditions for the Willow Tit.


We may not be able to completely halt the change that is occurring among Sheffield’s bird population, but with your help and support we can strive to give many of our best-loved birds a helping hand, and keep the ledger of local bird species in the black.