1. ITV Report

Why are our starlings disappearing?

Starlings congregate above the Palace Pier in Brighton. Up to 40,000 starlings perform their aerial acrobatic shows in the winter. Photo: PA

Starling numbers in parts of our region have declined by as much as 70% in the last two decades, according to new figures from the RSPB.

The birds are still plentiful but conservationists are worried by the sharp drop in numbers.

Scientists are seeking the help of farmers to investigate the mystery of Britain's disappearing starlings.

Once the chirpy chatter of the starling was one of the most recognisable sounds of the countryside.

But in Hampshire, for example, their numbers have declined by 69% since 1979.

The fate of the British starling is part of a bigger picture affecting the whole of Europe.

Over the past three decades, an estimated 40 million of the birds have vanished from the EU.

Experts from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have launched a new research programme to find out what is happening to the starling.

Dr Richard Gregory, who heads the RSPB's bird monitoring section, said: "Our records show that we have lost more starlings across Europe than any other farmland bird.

"Forty million starlings lost represents over 150 for every hour since the 1980s. This loss should be a wake-up call, because we ignore the decline of nature at our own peril."

In parts of Europe, loss of grassland through conversion to forestry land and the growing of crops have been blamed for reduced starling numbers. However, such changes have not affected the British countryside in the same way.

Starlings feed by probing lawns and pastures looking for grubs and insects, such as the leatherjacket, or cranefly larva - widely regarded as a pest by farmers and gardeners.

Part of the new research will examine pastures to see if they contain a rich enough food supply for starlings.

Martin Harper, the RSPB's conservation director, said: "We don't know the reasons for the starling's decline, but we hope that our research will yield the answers to ensure this bird has a secure future.

"Understanding exactly what is causing these declines will allow us to develop practical and cost-effective solutions for land managers and farmers. These could then be delivered through wildlife-friendly farming schemes and other policy interventions."

Starling numbers have been tracked by the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch, the world's biggest wildlife survey.

Latest figures show starling declines of up to 80% in English counties between 1993 and 2012.

In Scotland, starling numbers have fallen by 26.8% over the same period, and in Wales by 28.9%.