The Irish Times view on the decline of bird species: a warning from nature

Nearly half the world’s bird species are now in trouble, with many facing imminent extinction

In the 19th century, miners used canaries to warn them when toxic fumes reached lethal levels, as the birds would keel over before humans did. In the 21st century, birds in general play the same role above ground globally, as the climate and biodiversity crises threaten to make our planet uninhabitable.

That is how we need to read the grim figures from the latest State of the World Survey from BirdLife International, and its affiliate BirdWatch Ireland, which offers us “the most concerning picture yet of the future of avian species and, by extension, of all life on Earth”.

The report shows that the number of bird species declining across the world has risen by almost 10 per cent in four years. Nearly half the world’s species are now in trouble, with many facing imminent extinction. Because birds are so well studied, they act as credible indicators of general ecosystem degradation and collapse.

A BirdWatch/RSBP report shows that on our small island, whose “green” status politicians so love to trumpet abroad, the situation is even worse, with 63 per cent of bird species now in decline. As a BirdWatch Ireland spokesperson argued this week, the decline here is not happening accidentally. It happens because “sectoral policies in Ireland continue to take from the land and sea without giving anything back to protect and restore habitats from the wildlife they also support”.

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The Budget measures did not address this biodiversity emergency, failing once again to account for their impacts on our natural capital, thus hiding our soaring environmental deficit. And while increased funding to the National Parks and Wildlife Service is welcome, it not only falls far short of what is necessary, it is throwing good money after bad unless this service is made fit for purpose to protect and restore our landscapes.

In this UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, with an EU Nature Restoration Law hopefully on the way, the whole world, and Ireland, urgently need to make radical changes, and heed the message that birds are so clearly sending us.