Bird populations in France by species specialization, 1989-2017. Graphic: CRBPO

20 March 2018 (AFP) –  Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said.

Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies.

“Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century.

A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%.

The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”.

The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn.

The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize.

Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years.

Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to European Union figures.

“What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

“That shows that the overall quality of the agricultural eco-system is deteriorating.” [more]

'Catastrophe' as France's bird population collapses due to pesticides

Bird populations in France, 1995-2017. CNRS results on the workshop area 'Plaine & Val de Sèvre'. Graphic: CNRS

20 March 2018 (Muséum National D’histoire Naturelle) – The latest results from two bird monitoring studies, one conducted nationally, the other more locally, have just been released. Researchers at the National Museum of Natural History and the CNRS come to the same conclusion: the birds of the French countryside are disappearing at a vertiginous speed. On average, their populations have shrunk by one third in 15 years . Given the acceleration of losses in the last two years, this trend is far from bending.

Thanks to professional and bird-watchers who identify and count birds throughout the metropolitan area, the STOC (Temporary Monitoring of Common Birds, a participatory science program run by the National Museum of Natural History within CESCO), produces annual indicators (see the latest published STOC results) on the abundance of species in different habitats (forest, town, countryside,  etc.). Surveys conducted in rural areas show a decrease in bird populations living in agricultural areas since the 1990s. Specialist species such as the skylark, the grisette or the ortolan sparrow have average one in three in fifteen years. And the numbers show that this decline intensified further in 2016 and 2017 .

These national results are confirmed by a second study carried out at a local scale on the "Plaine & Val de Sèvre" Workshop Zone carried by the CNRS. Since 1995, researchers from the CEBC follow each year, in the Deux-Sèvres, 160 zones of 10 hectares of a cereal plain typical of French agricultural territories. In 23 years, all lowland bird species have seen their populations melt: the lark loses more than one in three (-35%); with eight out of ten individuals lost, partridges are almost decimated. This decline affects all bird species in agriculture, both the so-called specialist species - mainly attending this environment - and the so-called generalist species - found in all types of habitats, whether agricultural or not. According to STOC, generalist species do not decline at the national level; the observed decrease is therefore specific to the agricultural milieu, probably related to the collapse of insects.

This massive disappearance observed at different scales is concomitant with the intensification of agricultural practices over the past 25 years , especially since 2008-2009. A period that corresponds, among other things, to the end of the fallow periods imposed by the common agricultural policy, the surge in wheat prices, the resumption of the nitrate over-amendment allowing for the over-protein wheat and the generalization of neonicotinoids, very persistent neurotoxic insecticides.

These two studies, both conducted over twenty years and at different spatial scales, reveal the extent of the phenomenon: the decline of birds in agricultural areas is accelerating and reaching a level close to the ecological disaster . By 2018, many areas of cereal plains could experience a silent spring ("Silent Spring") announced by American ecologist Rachel Carson 55 years ago about the infamous DDT banned in France for over 45 years. If this situation is not yet irreversible, it is urgent to work with all the players in the agricultural world to accelerate changes in practices; and first with farmers who now have the keys to change the trend. [Translation by Bing]

The spring of 2018 promises to be silent in the French countryside


  1. Anonymous said...

    It should be obvious by now (you would think) that we are going to lose most species due to human pollution and the effects of climate change. All we seem to be able to do is exclaim "surprise" at their loss and disappearance, but are unable to do much more.

    The tragedy of the commons is our collective failure as the dominant species to get anything right. We're so incredibly selfish that we will sit silently by while everything else dies by our hand.

    Despite the best science, and the brightest minds in human history, and the ability to identify every nuance and effect with the best technology ever devised, we can only use these tools and skills to document accelerating death.

    Our species is destructive; disconnected from the Earth and abundance of life itself that once used to exist in incredible numbers around us all, but not any more. And we don't really care or even hardly notice their absence.

    Extinction is forever and we just cannot grasp the concept despite the enormous evidence right before us. These flaws in our character, perception and compassion and respect for life are fatally suicidal even to our own species - it is no stretch to understand that we feel this way about our own kind also. Just examine how we still treat each other for ample evidence of this fact.

    Life is where consciousness and appreciation, beauty and enjoyment are found. But we're very adept at suffering, oppression, destruction and death. We've taken our best gifts and our best skills and applied them in exactly the wrong way, which is now leading us all to biosphere collapse.

    Frankly, we do not deserve our existence no more, precisely because we have embraced wanton destruction as the price for a pampered existence. But that is just my opinion.

    In any case, it will undoubtedly come true anyways as we destroy the rest of the biosphere in our quest for our own comfort. And we will hardly even notice it when the final end comes.  

  2. Anonymous said...

    "Our species is destructive; disconnected from the Earth and abundance of life itself that once used to exist in incredible numbers around us all, but not any more." The earth has produced an abundance of life, like viruses, deadly bacteria, parasites, Prions, and countless other infectious agents.  

  3. Clive said...

    Well said. It is as you say.  


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