I and my
family came to the valley in late 1970, after one of the big
factors that caused a very rapid decline in the wild bird
population had already occurred. I refer to the severe winter of
1963-64 snow, freezing and icy winds lasted over two months and
icy snow was still in some places until June. I think the worst
hit wild bird was the Grey Partridge, thousands froze to death
from starvation and until this day it is quite a rare sight to
see a covey of Partridge. For many years, shooting and game
syndicates refrained from shooting them.
The hedgerow birds suffered losses with the decline of the Shire
Horse. Tractors took over most land work and as they got bigger
and more powerful miles of hedgerows were ripped out to make
fields bigger. Habitats of the Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Hedge
Sparrow (or Dunnock), Linnet and Yellow Hammer to name a few
were lost forever. Years ago every village and hamlet had their
own roadman to keep country lane verges tidy. The majority of
these men were nature lovers and very often if a patch of grass
verge was left, you could guarantee that a Yellow Hammer or
Meadow Pipit was nesting there. Then along came the tractor and
mower to tidy the verges, so away went the nests of these birds
that the old roadman would have preserved.
Dutch Elm Decease was another killer of the bird population.
Most Elm trees had holes and loose bark, ideal nesting places
for the Tree Creeper, their disappearance also aided the decline
of the Tree Sparrow, Starling, Owls and to some extent Jackdaws.
Old barns and sheds that housed livestock during the winter have
disappeared from the landscape and so Barn Owl numbers fell, the
Stock Dove was another victim.
Game keepers were employed by landowners and shooting syndicates
to look after the game birds, so they did not like birds of prey
on their patch, they virtually had a licence to kill them.
Nowadays with the new government laws making it an offence to
kill birds of prey we have seen a significant increase in their
population. Buzzards can now be seen every day in the Valley.
The gamekeeper also controlled egg stealing birds, Jays, Carrion
Crow and Magpie were not welcome on his patch. These three birds
have increased over the last thirty odd years. So is this
another reason why our songbird population has declined?
A new bird to the valley is the Red Kite, introduced to
Savernake Forest in the late Nineties. It can now be seen on
occasions hunting across our valley. A bird that made its own
way into Wiltshire was the Collared Dove, breeding for the first
time in Norfolk in 1952 it gradually spread across the country
and arrived here in the late Sixties, now it is one of our most
A lot of fields in the valley are now 'set-aside', these are
uncultivated and so may increase the nesting of Lapwing,
Skylark, Corn Bunting and Meadow Pipit. Some landowners in
conjunction with the RSPB are sowing wild plants to encourage
these species. Other landowners are planting tree plantations
and new hedgerows, this hopefully will help to increase the
numbers of Yellow Hammer, Linnet, Bullfinch and Whitethroat. The
banning of hedge cutting during the nesting season should also
help, it is now an offence to destroy and disturb nesting birds
in this way.
This valley of ours has a wide range of habitats. Woodlands
support five of the British owls, along with birds of prey,
Nightjar and Woodcock. Downland, fields and hedgerows as already
mentioned. The river and meadow land have Duck, Coot, Moorhen,
Little Grebe and Snipe and a few areas of reed bed for Reed
Bunting, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler.
This changing face of bird life in the Valley is as I see it and
is my own personal view - as a keen feeder of our feathered
article by Derek Hartshorn