Last month, an article in the journal Science reported that nearly 3 billion birds have gone extinct in less than 50 years in the US and Canada. There are a few things that are remarkable about this research.
First is the number. That’s not 1,000 or one million, but three billion. Put in perspective, that’s 36 times the estimated number of bird species in the UK, 545 times the human population of Scotland and represents a 30 per cent decline for species overall.
Second, much of the loss is among common species – songbirds like swifts, sparrows, swallows, blackbirds and finches have experienced the most loss. This loss is not just in the US and Canada. More than 160 species are endangered in the UK, and 56 per cent of UK species are in decline.
Third, phrases like “gone extinct” and “experienced the most loss” are misleading. These losses are the direct result of human activity. No mysterious force is having an effect on our nature. This crisis is our fault.
Just as this crisis is our responsibility, so is the solution. We need to encourage people to lead greener and more sustainable lifestyles and actively promote green energy, cut emissions, and protect, restore and fund our natural areas. We know that when we work together, we can make change happen. Advocacy efforts unite people, demand acknowledgement and lead to action on the connected crises of biodiversity and climate. As part of Scottish Environment Link and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, RSPB Scotland engages in coalition efforts like the recently-passed Climate Bill, which set net-zero emission targets by 2045 and committed to reduce greenhouse emissions by 75 per cent by 2030.
But the fight is far from over. Scotland still needs an environment bill that works to preserve nature through clearly-defined targets, creates an environmental watchdog and commits to match or exceed existing EU protections for thriving and vital natural sites in Scotland like Coul Links, near Dornoch in Sutherland. We also need to recognise the connection between farming, food and nature and work to ensure that industrial practices support, rather than threaten, biodiversity.
As Rachel Carson told us almost 60 years ago, the loudest alarm is the one which makes no sound: when the birds go silent, we have the most to fear. Can you remember the last time you woke up to birdsong that wasn’t part of a pre-programmed alarm? The absence of natural sound not only warns against what we are losing in the world; it also serves as a warning for what we are losing in ourselves.
In October last year, RSPB Scotland partnered with 10 NHS GP surgeries in Shetland to prescribe birdsong and walks in nature as part of the treatment for anxiety, heart disease, depression and obesity. As land artist Andy Goldsworthy said: “We ARE nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”
One of the biggest threats nature faces is our disconnection from it. In April, RSPB set out to reconnect people to nature, releasing a two-and-a-half minute single of birdsong called Let Nature Sing that reached number 18 on the UK singles charts. The track features the UK’s most threatened species, including curlews, lapwings and swifts.
Now, we’re continuing that campaign with a Let Nature Sing Sound Takeover on 17 October. More than 150 individual locations across Scotland, including the Enchanted Forest, Perthshire; Murrayfield; Kelvingrove Museum; Edinburgh Waverley station; Bon Accord and Union Square shopping centres in Aberdeen; V&A Dundee, and many tourist attractions like Edinburgh Castle, Linlithgow Palace and the Glencoe Visitor Centre, will participate, playing birdsong to raise awareness of the crisis facing nature and highlighting what we lose when the birds go silent.
Individuals and groups can join the campaign by hosting a birdsong afternoon tea, involving a local business or downloading the RSPB Birdsong Radio app, where you can hear the single from the UK charts.
RSPB wants to tell a new story about nature’s recovery – about a future where nature is strong and resilient, regaining its foothold and thriving. United, we can transform our way of living and shift to nature-friendly farming, green transport and flourishing woodlands, allowing nature to regenerate. By speaking out about the need to save birdsong, you empower friends and neighbours to join our movement and demand action. You can let nature sing at www.rspb.org.uk/letnaturesing
Erica Mason, policy and campaigns officer, RSPB Scotland.