How to Bring Birds Back!

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Skylark | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

The annual British Birdwatching Fair or ‘Birdfair’, described as ‘the birder’s Glastonbury’, has gone virtual this year due to Covid-19, running from 18th-21st August.  I was delighted to be interviewed by actor, Born Free patron and wildlife enthusiast, Dan Richardson, about what’s gone wrong for wildlife in farming and the countryside and how to put things right.

I hope you’ll join me in discovering how we can bring birds and other wildlife flooding back into the countryside by getting rid of factory farming. I’m so pleased to be able to share the full conversation with animal hero, Dan Richardson here:

Forty years ago, as an avid member of the RSPB’s Young Ornithologist’s Club (YOC), I took part in a project to find Britain’s most common garden bird; I’ve been hooked on wildlife ever since.  Those early glimpses of nature have since shaped my life. My intrigue at the workings of the natural world have helped me hugely in unravelling the riddle of just how the plight of wild birds, farm animals and our own well-being are all intertwined.

Barn Owl | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

Since those early years, when I became hooked by the sight of my first barn owl, I became a ‘twitcher’, obsessed by seeing rare birds. I also had the immense privilege of being a professional wildlife tour guide for a decade, taking fellow enthusiasts to far off lands like Costa Rica and the Seychelles.

These days, I’m much more locally focused; living on a farm, getting out along the fields, river and woods, to see what’s happening with the changes of the season.

However, I have become painfully aware that in the UK, Europe and pretty much anywhere tainted by factory farming, once common farmland wildlife has been disappearing before my very eyes.

The critically endangered Sumatran elephant | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

In recent decades, species like the barn owl, skylark, turtle dove and corn bunting have gone into steep decline.  This phenomena can also be seen on other continents. Iconic wildlife like the jaguar of South America and, in Asia, the critically endangered Sumatran elephant, have come under increasing threat as industrial agriculture intensifies.

When it comes to wildlife, factory farming is a major driver of declines worldwide.

Factory farming (the industrial production of farm animals, where animals are taken off the land and put into cages and crates and cruelly confined) sounds like a space saving idea, but isn’t.

By taking animals out of fields where they feed themselves, vast acreages of scarce arable land has to be devoted to growing their ‘feed’. Usually grown in monocultures, using deadly pesticides, artificial fertilisers and so on, the net effect is that wildlife is wiped away from the countryside. Nature is pushed out of farmland and into the margins.

Often, intensive crop production is so destructive, all that is left living is the crop.

Which is then fed to the factory farmed animals who waste the vast majority of the food value of that crop in terms of calories and protein in conversion to meat, milk and eggs.  To quantify this, globally in terms of feeding grain to factory farmed animals, we currently waste enough food to feed another four billion people.  This undermines our ability to feed ourselves in the future.

As Dan Richardson so rightly puts it in our interview, ‘the implications of this is catastrophic’.  He’s right. It’s now one of the biggest challenges facing humanity.

Wildlife is essential to a functioning ecosystem, which in itself is critical to our own survival. As wildlife declines, be it birds, iconic mammals, pollinating insects, worms and so on, so we undermine the ability to feed ourselves in the future.

Dan asked me how it all made me feel?  I had to admit that on bad days, it gets me down.

However, what gives me great cause for hope is the fact that we know how to put it right.

There is a simple and elegant solution and that is to end factory farming.  Of animals and crops. The two go hand-in-hand. To transform our food system into one that is regenerative: working in harmony with nature, building back soil health, water, pollinators and bird numbers.

We can all help, right here, right now, by pledging to reduce the amount of meat, eggs and dairy that we eat. Making sure that any that we eat comes from pasture-fed, free range or organic sources.

In this way, we really can help bring wildlife flooding back.

Compassion in World Farming is calling on the world’s most influential organisations, including the World Bank, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, to replace factory farming with a food system that respects animals, nurtures our planet, and reduces the risk of pandemics. 

If you have been moved by this blog and Philip’s Birdfair interview, please use this link to sign our petition and join the call for a future without factory farming.

Thank you.

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