Jailbirds play a part in helping sparrows survive

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JAILBIRDS are playing a vital role in helping save the Rye area’s ailing population of tree sparrows from extinction.

Romney Marshes and the Dungeness Peninsula are the last stronghold for the chestnut-capped characters who were once a common site around rural England and the Rye area.

However since the 1960’s there has been a 97% decline which is continuing.

Now, through the Romney Marsh Farmland Bird Project, the RSPB is working with farmers and other conservation organisations to bring these charismatic birds back from the brink of extinction in the UK.

In their own special effort to see the birds back on the wire, from behind the wire at HM Prison Rochester, inmates have just scratch-built 50 new tree sparrow nest boxes which will be put up across the project area.

Glen Routledge, Gardens Parties Supervisor from HMP Rochester said: “We have taken the job on to give the offenders a purposeful activity and to enable them to put something back into society as a part of our Bio-Diversity programme within the establishment.

“Offenders also gained valuable experience in producing these boxes and many have shown a keen interest in the plight of the tree sparrows for which the boxes are intended.

“They are now looking forward to the next project and working closely with the RSPB in the future.”

Craig Edwards, assistant warden at RSPB Dungeness said, “We are going to establish five winter feeding stations and erect 10 of the new boxes at each of the sites on the Marsh this winter.

“These will be monitored by a group of trained volunteers to assess how many birds are using them, and how many choose the boxes as a new home next spring.”

“Changes in the countryside, its agriculture, and our homes has limited the sparrows’ opportunity to feed on seeds through the winter, to find suitable nesting holes, and to find insects for their chicks in summer.

“Winter feeding stations are being set-up, and the one at RSPB Dungeness is now a favourite with the birds and hundreds of visitors who come to see them again.

Three farms in the area have already stepped up to the call for housing.

“Fay Pattinson, the RSPB’s Agricultural Project Officer, explained: “There is a lot of support available to farmers keen to help the recovery of farmland birds on their land.

“The sparrows are one of six important species benefitting from environmental stewardship schemes in this region.

“The next stage of the project is to work with farmers across the Marsh to help them cater for these species by putting in place the necessary conservation measures.

Anyone interested in supporting the project can contact Fay on 01273 763616