Everyone must have noticed the decline in the House Sparrow, over the last decade or two. They used to be considered a pest, by some, in view of their numbers and their habit of eating off cabbage plants etc. Our stone roof used to be full of them. We had no chance of a sleep-in, in the Summer mornings, with all their chattering and squabbling. Now we're down to a few pairs only (the numbers fluctuate each year). One year, we think we had none, but they thankfully came back.

Modern gardening habits have been blamed, along with the march of Leylandii hedges, paving, tarmac, concrete and decking.


Of course, these modern trends are no help to the environment and ecology. I'm no lover of decking and Leylandii. However, we personally have control of twelve acres (five or so hectares), we garden extremely lazily and we have at least 1.5 acres of conservation area, that pretty much runs wild. We leave some fallen trees, to act as habitat. We have thistles and nettles. We have burdock, teasels (the goldfinches love these), vetches, rattles, comfrey, dog rose, hawthorn, ivy galore, pyracantha and a good variety of native trees and berries. We have a massive biodiversity of plants and herbage. We have a rambling herb garden and last year's growth is left until Spring. We feed the birds consistently, with organic wild bird seed. We leave all dying garden growth until the Spring, rather than tidying up in the Autumn. We have ample water access for wild birds. We use no chemicals (and have no decking!). Nonetheless, we do not appear to have a haven for sparrows, as one might be entitled to expect.

Has anyone else noticed that car windscreens rarely need a good clean in the summer, nowadays? It used to be that, day or night, the windscreen would be a right mess after just 50 miles on the road. A car journey was a noisy affair at night, with clouds of moths meeting their end. Now, I don't have to clean my windscreen daily, despite my huge mileage. This means to me that there is a general, drastic and widespread decline in insects, not just a paucity of insect habitat in gardens. My suggestion is that maybe the widespread and prodigious use of agrochemicals (pesticides, herbicides, insecticides) could be to blame. I can't believe that GM (genetically modified) foods are completely blameless, either. Might those factors not also contribute to the modern decline of the bee (without whom we'd be really sunk)? Our grassland used to be full of Daddy Longlegs (Leatherjackets) in the Autumn. Not any more. We see a few each year. Our premises was patrolled by several bats and they used to come into the house. Now we rarely see one. The Vale of White Horse used to have flocks and flocks of Lapwings (or Peewits) that feed on leatherjackets in the winter. They would rise off the grassland in darkening clouds and made a wonderful sight, with their unique flight behaviour. Now we're lucky to see two or three about. Their fading is one of the biggest disappointments of my life. Insectivorous creatures appear to be fading everywhere, in arable regions.

I don't eat sparrows, bats or peewits (in fact, I'm vegetarian anyway) but all these chemicals in our food chain cannot be good for any of us, whatever the authorities and companies tell us. It's not just the sparrows. Their food chain is our food chain. Thank heaven for the increase in organically farmed acreage but the march is too slow. The more that folk buy 'cheap' chemically-produced food, the more chemicals will be used. This food isn't cheap anyway, at the end of the day, when the costs of illness, cleaning up drinking water etc., are taken into account.

Are the authorities and scientists afraid to tell us the truth? Maybe the RSPB should take a wider view. The poor old sparrows (and the lapwings, leatherjackets and bees) may be a warning to us, just as we used to take canaries down mines, to monitor for toxic gases. Remember that book - 'Silent Spring' by Rachel Carson? We have the chance to make changes, via our spending habits. Money (sadly) is king.

Georgina Downs's victory in the High Court, earlier this month, is one step on the road to common sense. Let's hope it will lead to a continuing journey.


There is another thought. These little chaps are not called 'house sparrows' for nothing. Their favourite nesting place in our premises is in the old stone roof. Could it also be that modern roofing methods are not 'sparrow-friendly'? Of course, all those cars on our roads may have a part to play, too, but the reservoir of insects, in a healthy environment, should out number the death toll on the road.

[Why not take a look at www.alternativevet.org , while you're here?]