When shall I see the white-thorn leaves agen,
And yellowhammers gathering the dry bents
By the dyke side, on stilly moor or fen,
Feathered with love and nature’s good intents?
During my childhood in 1950s I often used to cycle around the country lanes to the south and east of Lincoln. I loved to see the many yellowhammers I came across, that flash of yellow swooping around the hedgerows or singing on top of the hedge. We recently revisited this area of Lincolnshire; much of looks unchanged, maybe a bit more intensively farmed, but we didn’t see a single yellowhammer.
My experience is of course suggestive rather than conclusive. However, Wikipedia confirms that the yellowhammer was once common in UK farmland, but populations have drastically declined recently, causing it to be on the UK ‘red list’. Changes to farming practices are thought to be responsible for this decline, which is mirrored in similarly intensively farmed countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.
A few moments thought suggests that this ground nesting bird would be vulnerable to intensification of farming, such as not leaving an adequate margin around fields, a changed pattern of crops being grown in the Spring and increased use of pesticides.
The yellowhammer is not alone in this plight, which is shared by many farmland birds. In his excellent book Fighting for Birds, Mark Avery gives an overview of the problem and actions that organisations such as the RSPB have been taking over many years to try to get farming practices to change. Fortunately some change seems to be happening, but there is much to be done.
At the end of the day, we share the world with such as the yellowhammer, and we have reached a stage where we have to ensure its survival. The world would be a sad grey place without them and their ilk. Farmers have a sacred responsibility, but we can also help by being part of organisations such as the RSPB.
Featured image courtesy of Charlesjsharp , via Wikimedia Commons