Many would associate the word extinction with thoughts of exotic animals from distant countries: pandas, rhinos, tigers, for example. And you wouldn’t be wrong. It is common, after all, that the cute and cuddly tend to hog the spotlight in media coverage. However, it has recently come to light that four bird species native to the UK face extinction.
Atlantic puffins, Slavonian grebes, pochards and European turtle doves have all been categorised as at risk, being added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened species for birds.
The reasons for their decline are varied. Ecologists have stated that puffins are susceptible to pollution and a declining food source. It has been reported that turtle dove numbers across Europe have decreased by 30% in the past 16 years. The reason for the turtle dove and Solavonian grebe declines have not yet been fully identified, but both have been attributed to an unexplained reduction in the number of breeding pairs. It is thought that the reduction in pochard numbers is due to hunting and habitat destruction.
It is a surprise to hear that puffins are in decline, as they are relatively abundant – their numbers still in the millions. However, the decline in the abundance of their prey – species such as sand eels – has put them at risk: fewer and fewer young birds are surviving to reproduce.
Martin Harper, conservation director with the RSPB said: “The erosion of the UK’s wildlife is staggering and this is reinforced when you talk about puffins and turtle doves now facing the same level of extinction threat as African elephants and lions, and being more endangered than the humpback whale”.
It is clear that our attitudes towards native birds must change. We need to commit to fast, decisive action to reduce our impact on other species. A significant effort must be made to save the Atlantic puffin, Slavonian grebe, pochard and European turtle dove, if only for the sake of the partridge in the pear tree.