The main cause of our decimated 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 the 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 (24 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 correlations between the number of magpies and the breeding success of song-birds.’

Despite this Government statement there are many who will continue to kill, just for the hell of it!

Published: Wildlife Guardian, Issue 31, Summer 1995