A Silent Spring

Solitary swallow resting

Do you remember how it used to be in the spring when the migrant birds, swallows, swifts and house martins would arrive back in such large numbers from Africa?

As an aging “Baby Boomer” born in 1951 I belong to the last generation that will have this memory. I am in mourning for this loss and am also sorry that we allowed it to happen during our lifetime.

British Trust for Ornithology – Breeding Bird Survey

Climate change, netting on the route and destruction of nesting sites by development are all blamed but it seems clear that the principal reason is the decline in insects.

These birds are all “aerial insectivores” and rely entirely on insects, not only to feed their young but to build up their strength for the return flight to Africa. Insects have declined dramatically in Europe and so birds are becoming too weak to survive.

It seems reasonably obvious that if you kill the insects then the birds that rely on them will die too.

We have a simple choice –either a radical reform of modern farming methods to eliminate the use of insecticides or a Silent Spring.


“A Silent Spring” influential book by Rachel Carson published 1964– the first person to document the effect of pesticides.
The Decline in insect populations in Europe – a Wikepedia article about the latest data
British Trust for Ornithology – Population trend of Swift and responsible for the National  Breeding Bird Survey
Swift Conservation They help organise Swift Awareness Week 22nd to 30th June
Increasing use of pesticides  – A recent report by Friends of the Earth
The Sound of Extinction A short Youtube film with an American take on the Silent Spring (includes human singing)

Image Credits: Maxpixel https://www.maxpixel.net/Swallow-Summer-Bird-Blue-Sitting-2462896, British Trust for Ornithology https://app.bto.org/birdtrends/species.jsp?s=swift&year=2017.


  1. So easy, and inaccurately, to blame ‘modern farming methods’, but the real reason that these migrational birds are in decline is that just one Country, Egypt, has 700 kilometers of nets (sometimes upto 3 rows) set continuously to catch these birds for food.

    It is estimated that Egypt alone is killing 140 million birds a year, without adding similar bloodshed in Lebanon, Morocco and most North African Countries.

    You can’t harvest 140 million plus of anything each year and expect it to be sustainable, so blaming conventional farmers is wrong on all accounts !!

  2. I accept that netting is part of the problem but it is nothing new. According to Birdlife International …
    “For centuries, catching quail in nets has been an essential means of subsistence for people living in rural Northern Egypt.”
    Unless the netting of birds has increased dramatically since 1970 then it is hard to blame netting for the catastrophic decline in numbers of migrating birds since that date.
    There is also a well-established campaign to stop the practice and it has met with some success


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