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Our beautiful birds are “falling from the skies”

A peregrine falcon in the Brecon Beacons. Mike Warburton Photography/Getty

I know it’s currently a “target-rich environment” for newspaper columnists, says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sunday Times, but they’re somehow missing “the biggest story of them all”. Our beautiful birds are “falling from the skies”, struck down by an aggressive strain of bird flu. This time of year is particularly deadly. Millions of geese, shovelers and other species are arriving to replace the southward-migrating swallows and swifts, creating a “never-ending conveyor belt” of pestilence. Of course, unless bird flu mutates – “or a dead bird lands on your head” – we humans are rarely affected. Sure, it might be harder to get a Christmas turkey, but who cares when there’s “Putin and the eco-Herberts in hammocks” to worry about?

But the number of birds dying should “spin your head around”. One Florida sanctuary lost 99% of its avian residents; 47 million hens have perished in the US thanks to infections and cullings. On the Isle of Man, the flu has killed a peregrine falcon and 200 seabirds this summer, while 394 carcasses have been collected in Cornwall. The picture is even bleaker in Scotland, where the great skua population has plunged by 85% on some islands. Our world risks losing “many entire species”, which saddens twitchers like me. I wanted to spend my old age watching fieldfares and lapwings soar. All that’ll be left by then is a few pigeons.