Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) - Species Action Plan

Ref 2/S11 Species Action Plan 11
Plan Author: RSPB
Plan Co-ordinator: Farmland BAP Topic Group
Plan Leader: RSPB
Final Draft January 2006

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • The tree sparrow is patchily distributed on farmland across Britain and Ireland, being scarcer in the uplands, and the far north and west. The main populations are now found across eastern England from Kent to Yorkshire, with the species now rare in south-east England and almost absent from the south-west, Wales and the north-west.
  • The UK population of tree sparrows declined by 95% between 1970 and 1998, the largest decline of any bird species during this period. The tree sparrow also decreased in range by 20% over the same period, with particular losses in Wales and Scotland. (More details can be found at
  • The tree sparrow is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and EC Birds Directive. 

Norfolk Status

  • Patchily distributed across the county with main concentrations in north and mid Norfolk and the Brecks (RSPB/EN/BTO/Defra Farmland Bird Database). Unobtrusive and easily over-looked.
  • The 1986 Norfolk Bird Atlas recorded tree sparrow in 36% of 2km squares. It is not possible to measure tree sparrow population size or trends at a county level.

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Current factors causing loss or decline in Norfolk

  • The recent decline in tree sparrow numbers has occurred at the same time as decreases in the numbers and/or ranges of other farmland birds which share its diet of grass, wildflower and cereal seeds, and also feed their young on insects. It is therefore likely that its decline is due to changing agricultural practices, particularly the increased use of herbicides; the shift from spring-sown to autumn-sown crops and the consequent loss of winter stubble fields; the more intensive management of grassland; and the general reduction of habitat diversity on farmland due to the loss of mixed farming and increased specialisation.
  • RSPB research at Rutland Water suggests that the presence of wetland features near nest sites may be important during the breeding season as a source of invertebrate food for chicks.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that the availability of seed food in late winter/early spring may also be a limiting factor.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Little direct conservation work for the tree sparrow has been carried out, although feeding and nest-box schemes in a number of areas, eg STANTA, have been implemented.
  • Rotational set-aside will have benefited the species, although this has been significantly reduced in area in recent years.
  • Tree sparrow has been targeted by the arable options in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, encouraging the growth of spring-sown cereals, the retention of winter stubbles and the provision of wild bird seed crops.
  • The Environmental Stewardship schemes will continue to provide management options that will be promoted and targeted in support of this species.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • In the short term, halt or reverse the decline in numbers of the tree sparrow by the year 2003 so that the Breeding Bird Survey index is at least at 1996 levels.
  • In the long term, see a sustained recovery, so that the BBS index is at least 50% higher than 1996 levels, and a measurable increase in range is achieved, by 2008.
  • Expand the range from that of 1996, as measured by the frequency in random BBS squares, by 2008.


  • Maintain the current distribution of tree sparrow in Norfolk and by 2010 restore to any parts of the county that have lost breeding tree sparrow since 1986.

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