Sewage clean-up hits birds

June 13, 2003

A greener environment with cleaner water could threaten one of the UK's greatest wildlife spectacles - the 2 million water birds that come to spend the winter on estuarine and non-estuarine coasts, according to research.

The UK is a popular winter destination for water birds from northern breeding grounds, writes Natasha Gilbert.

But a study of birds wintering on the UK's coastline conducted between November 1994-March 1995 and November 1998-March 1999 found a 5 per cent drop in total populations. Some species declined by 10 to 20 per cent.

Mark Rehfisch, head of the Wetland and Coastal Ecology Unit at the British Trust for Ornithology and study co-author, said the decline could be due to attempts to improve water quality. Sewage outflows contain high levels of nutrients for the birds.

Because clean-water directives operate across the European Union, the threat to water birds could be even greater than the study indicates, Dr Rehfisch said.

The findings will be published in Biological Conservation .

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