'Alarming' drop in UK bird numbers
The numbers of the UK's most threatened and "incredibly precious" birds are continuing to fall after years of declining at "alarming rates", according to a birdwatching survey.
Starlings, a UK 'red-listed' species - meaning it is of the highest conservation concern - hit an all-time low in the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch survey last year and their numbers sunk by a further 16% in gardens this year.
Numbers of house sparrows, also on the red list, dropped by 17% in gardens compared to 2012, while bullfinches and dunnocks, both amber-listed, fell by 20% and 13% respectively.
Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said he enjoyed the Birdwatch with his children this year and described it as "one of those memorable mornings when the family is captivated by nature".
He said: "We know from the many people who take part in Big Garden Birdwatch every year that garden birds are incredibly precious to us and connect us to nature every day."
He added: "But several of our familiar and best-loved species have been declining at alarming rates over the 34 years that the RSPB has been running the Birdwatch and this year's results show a continuing decline."
Mr Harper highlighted the important role gardens play in supporting threatened birds.
"We go to great lengths to ensure that special UK habitats are given the right levels of designation and legal protection because of their role in supporting threatened wildlife, but what's very clear is that every one of our gardens, the places literally on our doorsteps, are important too," he said.
He added: "Gardens make up around 4% of land area in the UK and their role as habitats for our wildlife is clear.
"They are the places that birds come to for food and shelter when conditions in the countryside are especially tough and together, we can all play a part in making them more welcoming and supportive for wildlife, whether we have a garden full of greenery, a yard or a window box."