Every night, Alice Cerutti falls asleep to the birds singing on her rice farm in the middle of the Italian countryside. In the morning the voice of the black-tailed godwit, a bird whose number is decreasing global, wakes you up from sleep – a little harsh. Cerutti imitates the bird piercing call on the phone and laughs. “Their sound is a bit annoying,” she says, but quickly adds, “I really love them.”
Cerutti has turned their 115-hectare rice farm, halfway between Milan and Turin, into a conservation project. Over the past decade or so, she and her family have planted thousands of trees, restored wetlands, and brought in experts to help research and manage the precious birds that nest in areas Cerutti has reserved for wildlife.
It seems to work. “We have this amazing and huge responsibility,” Cerutti says as she explains that her farm is the one last recorded regular nest site the black-tailed godwit in Italy. Local researchers found the bird clinging there while disappearing in other locations.
Half of the approximately 10,000 bird species in the world are in decline. One in eight is threatened with extinction. This problem has been worsening for decades, meaning scientists have been able to estimate roughly how many fewer birds there are today than, say, half a century ago. The numbers are frightening.
There are 73 million In the UK alone there are fewer birds than there were in 1970. Europe loses around 20 million birds each year, says Vasilis Dakos, an ecologist at the University of Montpellier in France – a loss of 800 million birds since 1980. And in the US just shy 3 billion individual birds have disappeared in just 50 years.
“We are witnessing a collapse in bird populations,” says Ariel Brunner, director of BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, a conservation NGO. Habitat loss, increasing use of pesticides on farms and, yes, climate change– These are some of the culpable factors. Even if you are not a bird watcher, the loss of birds will affect you. Birds regulate ecosystems by hunting insects, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds—for example, excreting them after eating fruit. We all depend on healthy ecosystems for breathable air, the food we eat and a regulated climate.
The disappearance of the birds is frightening. But Cerutti and others are trying to make a difference. Overall, it has designated around a quarter of its arable land as a nature reserve. For example, today there are six and a half hectares of forest. If you look at the farm, called Cascina Oschiena, using Google Maps satellite imagery, she says, you can see a wedge of dark green trees — alone amidst the vast sea of paddy fields that she and her neighbors own.
Cerutti has dispensed with the use of pesticides and has ensured that vegetation grows back in wet areas. Besides the black-tailed godwit, there are others Bitterns And lapwings– both also in decline. And no, she’s not making as much money as she could if she were intent on maximizing profits on the same piece of land. It does not matter. “Not every farmer can do what we do, but I think it’s important to do something,” she says. A neighbor was recently inspired by Cerutti’s efforts to stop spraying areas adjacent to her farm glyphosate, an incredibly effective herbicide. “I think it’s a great step,” says Cerutti.