PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 160, Spring 2010: PRBO's Graduate Students


Letter to the Editor

PRBO's Graduate Students
Stewart Udall and the Future of Conservation
Grad Student Profiles
A Past Grad Student Reflects
PRBO Highlights
Investing in Nature's Future
Focus on Feeding Frenzies
Letter to the Editor

PRBO members Joyce and Jim Schnobrich spend two seasons every year in England, where they live on a mixed tree farm. Recently, having read the winter 2010 Observer on extreme weather, Joyce sent us the following correspondence. She enclosed an item of interest from the London Times. We welcome letters from Observer readers! Please write us with your questions, impressions, and insights: email

Observations from Britain
Mistle Thrush, Turdus viscivorus. Photo by David Friel/Flickr Creative Commons.

Here in rural northern Oxfordshire we are very observant of the wildlife around us. Having known this area for slightly over 30 years, I am waiting to see whether bird activities and nesting habits seem different from years past—especially after the coldest winter in 31 years and also the driest April in many years. It is still too soon to see what this year's pattern will be. Since arriving on April 22nd, I have seen some of the usual species—Pied Wagtail, Blackbird, Jay, Woodpigeon, Mistle Thrush, Swallow (and have heard a Cuckoo)—but none of the Blue Tits or others of the tit family that usually nest in profusion here. I know there are Robins nesting in the garden shed, and some Tawny Owls made a racket outside our windows the other night. We have a Moorhen on the pond. It looks as though this may be a rabbit year, while last year was not. Roe deer and muntjac (barking deer) are in profusion and the curse of farmers and woodmen.

Our Sunday paper had a story/review in it that I am sending to you. One paragraph in particular sprang out at me as I thought of work at PRBO and the work that Burr* has done with fisheries over the years.

Excerpts from The Sunday Times (April 25, 2010) review of Silent Summer, a new book examining the radical declines of invertebrate populations in Great Britain.

Butterflies are among the hardest hit of insect groups. Similarly moths, whose population declined by more than a third from 1968 to 2002.

Species such as mayflies were once renowned for forming vast, shimmering swarms as their aquatic larvae hatched and took to the air in summer. They also provided an important source of food for birds, fish, bats and predatory insects.

Swallows, insect eaters, are among the worst affected, with populations down by two-thirds since the mid-1970s

The destruction of ecosystems also extends far out to sea, with many commercially exploited fish stocks at risk of collapse.

"Anyone over 50 can remember when every field and garden teemed with butterflies and bumblebees, and the hatches of mayflies on rivers were incredibly dense. Younger generations of people who never saw them have no real idea of just how much we have lost or how quickly it has changed."

Joyce Schnobrich (Berkeley, California, and Oxfordshire, U.K.)

[back to top] [printable page]