In the upland areas of the UK, particularly in the north of the country, there is a small passerine species that flutters amongst the heather and long grasses, its tuneful song playing on the wind. When displaying his shape and form in flight, he looks rather like a fluttering parachute, wafting about on the breeze. Have you guessed who it is? The meadow pipit.
Ok, so it wasn’t rocket science. In fact, you probably guessed it from the title, after all, all I did was change the words around a bit. No marks for an imaginative, cryptic title there. Nevermind. So! The meadow pipit. Anthus pratensis. The mippit. Chit lark. Peet lark. Once again, a species with a plethora of fascinating and rather fabulous names. In fact, the word pipit is an onomatopoeia, reflecting the pipit’s song and was first documented as being used by the Welsh naturalist, Thomas Pennant, in 1768. Remember that, it might come in handy in a pub quiz! The meadow pipit is known to be our most common upland songbird and is present all year round in the majority of the UK.
So, as our most common, we might expect our meadow pipits to be doing rather well for themselves. However, in the UK, meadow pipit numbers have been slowly declining since the 1970s and consequently, they are on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern. But it’s not all doom and gloom! Things could certainly be worse for our meadow pipits, but there is also room for improvement.
So, what about elsewhere? Is it just the UK where this steady decline is occurring? Well, across Europe, the meadow pipit has a very wide distribution indeed, extending from Greenland in the west, all the way to the mountainous regions of Russia. Safe to say then that the meadow pipit is not short of countries in which to survive, in fact, the breeding population of Europe is thought to be between 9-15 million pairs. 15 million! Well, that’s plenty surely! Nothing to worry about! Well, not quite nothing, because in Europe too, there has been a moderate decline, which began in the 1980s. In fact, data published by the European Red List of Birds showed that meadow pipit numbers have decreased by 30% in just 11.4 years!
What’s going on then? What is the cause of this constant and steady decline? Well, the meadow pipit breeds in a wide range of habitats including heather, bogs, grassland, salt marshes, dunes, forest clearings, hillsides and the list continues. The main threat to the species is thought to be agricultural intensification, which has reduced the size and availability of the pipits habitats. Season to season however, pipit numbers can fluctuate and this is often related to periods of prolonged and severe weather.
Ok, so meadow pipits are not about to disappear from our countryside in the next few days. No no, their situation is not yet that perilous. However, like many they find themselves in the rather precarious and uncertain position that is the Amber list. Will they go up to green, or will they drop down to red? Or maybe just stay where they are? The conservation traffic lights are after all, forever changing. As yet, it all remains unclear and who knows how our meadow pipits will be fairing in the future. For me, they are one of my favourite moorland birds. Fast, quirky, noisy and always displaying and showing off, whether it be high on the wind, or down amongst the heather. When they are surrounded by the bigger lapwings, curlews, plovers and gulls, they may seem easy to miss, but take a minute to appreciate a pipit. Especially the pipit of the meadow.
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