BLOG: Why are urban green environments important for the UK’s bird population?

12 February 2017

Recent reports suggest that around a third of Britain’s woodland bird species have declined over the past decade, mainly due to habitat loss, fragmentation and intensive land management. So how exactly is habitat loss affecting UK birds – and why can tree planting projects in urban areas help to boost populations?

Diminishing habitats contribute to declining bird populations all over the UK

Woodland areas provide shelter, food and nesting sites for some of the UK’s most beautiful birds – from much-loved favourites like robins and starlings to lesser-known species including flycatchers and woodpeckers.

Habitat loss is one of the primary causes of vanishing bird species throughout the UK – occurring largely as a result of intensive crop farming, the destruction of orchards and hedgerows and the effect of climate change, which forces birds to look for other locations that allow them to adapt to warmer temperatures.

The quality of available habitat is also a key factor – as where woodland areas have degraded over time fewer food sources can be found. New housing developments on former shrub and woodland sites further forces birds away from areas where they would historically thrive. As a result many of Britain’s birds are suffering including nightingales, curlews and birds of prey - with a survey in April 2017 warning that over a quarter of the UK’s bird species were at risk of extinction or steep decline.

Just one tree can provide vital habitats and valuable resources for our birds

There’s much more on offer for birds in urban environments than meets the eye. Often when we think of birds and birdsong we automatically picture green spaces and countryside settings - but cities can also provide valuable habitats for a great number of bird species.

Although habitat loss on a wider scale does involve rural locations, small changes within city environments can make a huge difference. Street trees can create important havens for birds – small flocks of waxwings can be seen during winter, and goldfinches will nest in smaller trees. Even old tree stumps can provide much-needed shelter – redstarts in particular have been known to use them as nesting sites.

Bringing back birdsong to Britain’s cities

Although a rapturous dawn chorus is usually associated with rolling hills, vast meadows and lush forests, birdsong can be heard all year round even in inner city environments. Robins, blackbirds, thrushes, goldfinches and blue tits all sing from street trees, especially during Spring. Listen out for the shrill cry of the chaffinch and the sparrow’s jaunty chirrup - sometimes found in the suburbs and city centres. We’ll be posting sound clips from some of Britain’s favourite birds throughout February – follow us on social media to see if you can identify some in your area.

Get involved

Britain’s birds are in trouble – but the good news is that there are lots of ways you can help – many of which are inexpensive and easy. Just a few small changes could make a huge difference – especially if everyone gets involved.

If you have a garden or yard, planting just one tree could provide a vital habitat for local birds. Putting out birdseed and nesting materials such as pet hair, glass clippings and straw can further enrich their surroundings. Certain types of feeders can also attract smaller species, especially during spring months when birds are mating and nesting.

This month hosts National Nestbox Week – and we’ve teamed up with RSPB to talk about the importance of trees and woods for our birds. We hope to help future generations to learn more about the environment around them and make them more passionate about protecting and conserving Britain’s wildlife.

Join in the conversation on social media @cityoftreesmcr