Threatened woodland bird species to be monitored after massive fall in numbers

Two once-widespread woodland birds have become so threatened that their numbers will be monitored by experts who track the UK’s rarest breeding birds, it was announced.

Populations of the lesser spotted woodpecker and the willow tit have plummeted since the 1970s.

Numbers of willow tits have fallen by 91 per cent and the lesser spotted woodpecker, the smallest of the UK’s woodpeckers, have dropped by more than three-quarters (76 per cent), the RSPB said.

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The wildlife charity’s Mark Eaton said: “It is tragic to think that within many people’s memories these woodland birds were so widespread and now they are so rare.

“Since the 1970s, we’ve lost nine out of 10 pairs of willow tits and three out of four pairs of lesser spotted woodpecker, and in many areas these birds have disappeared completely.”

It is unclear exactly why numbers have fallen so significantly, but experts believe changes to woodland may be playing a role.

A lack of suitable management which would allow new growth and provides dead and decaying timber may be having an effect, while willow tits may also be hit by wooded areas drying out.

The RSPB said the declines were extremely alarming, with the birds disappearing altogether from counties where they were once found.

The situation has become so serious that the Rare Breeding Birds Panel will be collecting information on the number of breeding pairs which remain.