The dangers of string and ribbon to our birdlife

The dangers of string and ribbon to our birdlife


A guest blog by Geoff Edmond, our National Wildlife Officer Coordinator.

The Great British Spring Clean and Big Bag Challenge is almost here! From the 25th of March to the 10th of April, we're asking you to pledge to grab your litter pickers in a huge volunteer movement to clean up our communities, green spaces, beaches and highways.

Litter can create so many problems, not only for our environment and the world we live in, but it also hugely impacts our wildlife too and they need your help!

Geoff Edmonds, our National Wildlife Officer Coordinator, explains the many reasons why litter is a menace and what we can do to help.

Predator attacks: How litter can endanger nesting birds

As Spring approaches, it can be a busy world in the nature that surrounds us, not least because many of our birds are breeding and many will soon start building nests.

A nest is a temporary home, built with great speed and design, which will house parent birds as they incubate a number of eggs. These birds will then fly back and forth constantly to feed the nestlings.

Once their eggs hatch, finally and hopefully successfully, the young birds will then fledge and leave their first home to start a new life. In some species, the parents will then lay some more eggs and start the whole process again to rear a second brood.

In these instances, the nest will be in use for a much longer period. While some nests are used year on year with just a little bit of spring cleaning and maintenance to tidy them up for the new season.

Birds are really clever natural engineers who can weave dried grass, twigs, moss, lichens and a whole host of natural materials to construct these homes, weaving it all together with no design plan to create wonderfully intricate homes.

However, what we don't want to see is the use of unnatural materials used in their construction. I have seen all manner of string, coloured ribbons, plastic netting and string from balloons used and entwined into nests.

We know balloons are bad but what about the string?

While it may look colourful, it can also be dangerous. Nests, by design, are very often well concealed and hidden, which can help maximise protection and minimise attacks from predators. So first of all, natural materials are essential in camouflaging a nest.

There is also a real risk of entanglement when litter is used for construction. The nest can become very busy and we don't want to see a parent bird getting their legs or beak entangled in materials, rendering them unable to leave the nest and be able to feed.

The true cost of litter: Suffocation and starvation

Nestlings grow really quickly, so it would be all too easy for a nestling to become entangled in littered string, which only becomes more entangled as the small bird grows. Sadly, this can too easily result in nest fatality through suffocation and starvation.

It can also prevent the fledgling from being able to leave the nest when they're fully grown. Of course, a bird tied to a nest by entanglement is also much more susceptible to being attacked by a predator.

Even the smallest piece of string or ribbon can cause the biggest problems. Often it's the litter that we might not see straight away - but to a bird, it creates curiosity and if available, they┬┐ll often choose to use it. Sadly, the consequences can be devastating.

We must take responsibility and ensure that we don't leave litter of any type out to protect our wildlife and our environment before it's too late.

Do your bit - and take part in the Big Bag Challenge 2022

Take action to save our wildlife from the devastation of litter with a litter pick.

Save our wildlife: Take your pledge.

Litter: The bigger picture

As well as our involvement with the amazing work of Keep Britain Tidy and the Great British Spring Clean, our partnerships on litter and environmental protection continue throughout the year.

This year in partnership with the NFU, Keep Britain Tidy and a number of other like-minded organisations, we're continuing to campaign to stop the release of sky litter, including balloons and sky lanterns.

Remember, the string attached to the balloon can be just as much a hazard as the balloon itself - causing our wildlife to become entangled and endangered. Simply swapping out party supplies can make a world of difference. Find out more about the litter issues and balloon and sky lantern alternatives:

Issues and alternatives: Balloons and sky lanterns.

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