SongBird Survival Trust
Anti-Magpie Propaganda Exposed
Most of the anti-magpie and anti-predator propaganda originates from game shooting interests. The organisation SongBird Survival Trust (founded in 2001) has been behind much of the recent propaganda with Viscount Coke, a principle Trustee and spokesman for the group.
However, the heir to the Holkham Estate, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk, is no stranger to controversy. In June 2000 he faced 12 charges relating to the use of poisons on the family’s Norfolk estate. Sadly the case against him was later dropped, his charges followed the conviction in March that year of one of the estate’s gamekeepers for shooting and poisoning three kestrels which he blamed for killing partridges being raised for shooting.
So be aware of black propaganda against magpies, crows, or birds of prey. Somewhere behind it you will generally find the dark hand of the shooting industry.
SongBird Survival’s stated aims include ‘fund research into the decline of songbirds’ and ‘balance the number of predators… this should apply to corvids such as magpies’. It seems they have already decided which predators they want to ‘balance’ (why can’t they say kill?) without any credible research.
The Effect of Magpies on Songbirds
Most British members of the crow family (including magpies) will take eggs and nestlings. This can be upsetting to witness but it is completely natural. However, some people are concerned that there may be a long-term effect on songbird populations.
Many of the UKs commonest songbirds have declined during the last 25 years, at a time when populations of magpies have increased. To find out why songbirds are in trouble, the RSPB has undertaken intensive research on species such as the Skylark and song thrush. To discover whether magpies (or sparrowhawks) could be to blame for the decline, the RSPB commissioned the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to analyse its 35 years of bird monitoring records.
The study found that songbird numbers were no different in places where there were many magpies or sparrowhawks from where there are few. It found no evidence that increased numbers of magpies have caused declines in songbirds and confirms that populations of prey species are not determined by the numbers of their predators. It is the availability of food and suitable places in which to nest that decide the population.
The main cause of the decline in our song-bird population has been the threat to habitats and the development and use of organo-phosphate chemicals as pesticides since the end of the First World War.
These chemicals were by-products of the chemical war industry that built up during the ‘Great War’, derived from horrendous weapons such as nerve gas. Rachel Carson, in her book ‘Silent Spring’ highlighted many of the problems in the early 1960s, particularly the almost complete obliteration of song-birds in some areas of the USA caused by DDT. This pesticide and its derivatives are still in use today all over the world.
In recent years a myth that magpies are also to blame for the declining song-bird population has been spread far and wide. The magpie has been denigrated in much the same way that the fox and squirrel have, and to such an extent that even some concerned about animal welfare have fallen for the argument. This has, no doubt, been an idea pushed by those ‘sporting conservationists’ who enjoy sitting around farmer’s field attracting magpies with shiny objects so that they can test their shooting skills. The idea that the magpie is to blame is quite ludicrous. These birds are just as susceptible to the pressures of declining habitat and poison as any other bird.
In a Government reply to written questions (24th April 1995) concerning magpies (and alleged attacks on young lambs!) it was announced that ‘Recent research in England and Wales has shown that there is no correlation between the number of magpies and the breeding success of song-birds.’