MERSEYSIDE farmers have stepped up for nature by getting involved in a conservation project aimed at helping a struggling bird that has suffered huge declines in recent years.
An RSPB project, Operation Tree Sparrow, was set up to give a helping hand to the farmland bird species, whose UK population has dropped by more than 90% over the past four decades despite small increases over the past few years.
The tree sparrow is smaller and sleeker than its more common cousin, the house sparrow, and can be distinguished by the pale collar around the back of its neck. Like many farmland bird species, changes in agricultural practices have led to a shortage of its diet of seeds and insects.
The aim of Operation Tree Sparrow – which ran from 2004 to 2011 – was to help reverse declines by providing the species with a much-needed supply of winter food and nesting sites on farms in Merseyside.
Also, farmers were offered support and advice for entry into wildlife-friendly farming schemes to support existing populations of tree sparrows and other farmland birds.
Suitable measures for tree sparrows and other farmland birds that farmers can undertake include winter stubbles, wild bird crops and spring cereals.
Over the life of the project, dedicated volunteers erected over 1,400 nestboxes and hundreds of feeding stations on 85 farms in Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Merseyside and Cumbria.
As a result, some of the participating farms recorded large numbers of tree sparrows. John Kay, one of the farmers who took part in Operation Tree Sparrow, said: “I got involved with the project because I was concerned about the local wildlife and wanted to do all I could to help preserve it.
“Since joining the project, I’ve never seen so many tree sparrows and grey partridges.”
Carol Coupe, of the RSPB, who ran the project, said: “I would like to thank all of the volunteers and farmers who supported Operation Tree Sparrow. Their efforts have given tree sparrows and other farmland birds a chance to thrive once more.”
FIND out more at www.rspb.org.uk