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North Merseyside Biodiversity Action Plan
Although only a small proportion of the country’s birds is found in urban areas, for very large numbers of people they provide their main contact with wildlife. Most species are not truly urban but woodland birds that have adopted parks and gardens as their home.
One such species, the Song Thrush, is in serious decline in the countryside but is holding its own in urban and suburban areas. Feeding garden birds is a major recreational activity, as indicated by the huge numbers of people who contribute to the BTO and RSPB garden bird surveys.
A small number of species, including House Sparrow, House Martin and Swift, are truly urban in that they breed almost entirely in or on buildings. Starlings are also highly dependent on buildings for nest sites. All these species are believed to be in significant decline but survey difficulties in urban areas have meant that scientific data have been difficult to assemble. However, both House Sparrow and Starling were added to the list of UK BAP Priority Species in 2007 because of their declining populations. Monitoring data suggest a 64% reduction in House Sparrow numbers since 1977 and some surveys put this decline at closer to 90% in urban areas. Starling numbers have declined by 72% since 1970 and House Martins by 32%. Information on Swifts is difficult to obtain but the Breeding Bird Survey indicates a decline of 26% since 1994.
The North Merseyside conurbation supports a remarkable diversity of breeding and wintering bird species. Breeding Peregrine Falcons and Ravens are amongst the more spectacular of these. The largest numbers of birds are found in lightly managed greenspaces but parks, gardens and buildings are also important. One iconic species, Black Redstart, has been lost as a breeding bird since the 1990s but several others, notably Nuthatch, Long-tailed Tit and Jay, have successfully colonised urban areas.
House Sparrows and Starlings continue to breed in all areas of urban North Merseyside. During 1997-2000 House Martins bred in 80 out of 140 tetrads, mostly in the outer areas where supplies of mud necessary for nest-building are available. Swifts are more restricted in their distribution and bred in only 55 tetrads.
Local population sizes and trends of most species are not known but a sample survey in 2001-2002 estimated that a total of 11,400 pairs of House Sparrows nested in North Merseyside. House Sparrows have almost completely disappeared from large areas of inner city Liverpool in the past 10 to 15 years but strong populations persist in many St Helens, Crosby, Southport and north Liverpool.