What does ‘red sixty seven’ conjure up for you? A film perhaps, or a band, or maybe the name of a beer? It’s none of those things. The stark reality is it’s a list of the UK’s most at risk birds.
Hearteningly it is also the name of a project to raise awareness of their situation and to secure extra funds so conservation organisations the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) and the RSPB (Royal Society for Protection of Birds) can do further work toward securing a future for these species.
The project is based around a book featuring the 67 ‘red-listed‘ birds. Each bird has its own illustration, by a different artist, accompanied by a personal story from a diverse collection of writers. All the writers and artists waived their fees and donated their work in support of conservation efforts for the birds. (If you’re wondering which writers and artists, the list includes Ann Cleeves, Patrick Barkham, Mark Cocker and Adam Nicolson and the artworks include pieces by Chris Packham, Daily Mail political cartoonist Paul Thomas and Carry Akroyd).
What birds do you think are on the list and in the book? Are you imagining it’s a bunch of little known species with which you have no connection? If so, you’d be wrong. The chances are your favourite bird, or a species you’re especially fond of – because it comes to your garden or conjures up memories of your childhood – is one of these threatened birds.
House sparrows are among them. Yeah, I know, how can that be? They are always in your garden and anyway they’re ‘just little brown jobs’. But they don’t like moving too far from where they hatched and so many gardens have had hedges and plants ripped out to make way for patios or drives that they’ve been squeezed out. They might seem numerous, but between 1977 and 2008 more than 70% of the UK’s house sparrows were lost.
To some that might just be meaningless numbers, but it makes me feel incredibly sad. I interact with ‘my’ house sparrows on a daily basis. I hear them before they arrive, they make me open the window even on the coldest days just so I can listen to them better. Their noisy conversation reminds me of the house I grew up in. I’d hear them in the forsythia outside the kitchen window – which would have been left open to let out steam and cooking smells and which allowed in the infectiously cheerful sounds of chattering sparrows. The house was sold after my parents died. Sadly, the hedge that the sparrows frequented is now gone. As are pretty much all the other plants in both the back and front gardens; the latter paved over entirely. I try not to dwell on this too much. Not least as I had some of my formative birding experiences watching birds on the feeders at that house.
Another bird on the list is also one I connected with early on in my birding: the curlew. I remember watching them near The Crab & Lobster pub at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex. I was transfixed by several taking off almost vertically, like feathered helicopters. Again, you might think, but I see them all the time on my winter walks – and they do still visit in quite large numbers in winter. As a UK breeding bird though, their populations have crashed and only about 66,000 pairs breed here now – with intensive farming fingered as the main cause of their decline.
The other 65 stories are no brighter – hence the need to raise awareness of what these species are facing and increase efforts to halt their decline.
You’re too late to get your hands on one of the original artworks. These are being sold as part of the project via 67 ‘lucky dip’ lottery tickets – all of which sold out within a few hours of going on sale despite being £110 each. You can still do your bit though – by buying the book or joining one of the conservation organisations involved. If you can’t afford it, spread the word instead. The red sixty seven – and all wild birds – need our support.
- Get your copy of the Red Sixty Seven book here. Every penny from sales of the book will be donated directly to red-listed species conservation projects run by BTO and RSPB.
Red Sixty Seven is the brainchild of Kit Jewitt, a birder and part-time conservationist from Northumberland, who has track record of raising money to support conservation work – both as an individual and through the Probable Bird Society.