An obsession with keeping the landscape tidy has been blamed for the rapid disappearance of Britain’s smallest woodpecker.

The population of lesser spotted woodpeckers has almost halved since 2009 because dead trees are being quickly removed from parks and woods, the British Trust for Ornithology said. The sparrow-sized birds have been ­declining since about 1980 and only about 2000 remain.

The birds tend to nest in decaying wood because it is softer and therefore easier for them to peck when carving a nesting hole.

Trust spokesman Paul Stancliffe said decaying trees used to be left in place but landowners were now more likely to remove them, partly because of excessive concerns over health and safety.

“They are being tidied up much more, especially in parks,” he said. “If there is a danger of trees falling across paths, they are being removed.”

The decline is revealed in an annual report on wild bird populations based on data collected by the trust. Greenfinches have fallen by 39 per cent and turtle doves by 70 per cent over the same period. Both affected by trichomonosis, a disease that affects the throat and prevents birds from feeding.

There are signs, however, that a decline in farmland birds may have been halted. The number of farmland birds has more than halved since 1970, mainly due to the intensification of farming and increased pesticide use. The latest figures show a 6 per cent increase in the birds from 2014 to 2015.


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