There’s a stranger in my garden; I know because he immediately stands out from the others. He bounces towards the window and I get a closer look at his decoration, his uniform: black and white stripes down the side, sweeps of brown on his back and a large white ruff round his neck that gives him the air of a VIP at court. I’m delighted to see him.

I should admit however that there was a time I wouldn’t have been bothered about seeing a reed bunting, or any other bird. When you’re young, you care only about what the birds care about: eating, drinking, and another thing. But as I’ve got older I’ve started to take more of an interest in the birds I see. Occasional visitors, like the jay, the dunnock, and the reed bunting, but the foot soldiers of my garden too: collared doves, chaffies, and the tits of course if only for the endless possibilities for double entendre.

But I worry too, don’t you? This weekend, along with thousands of others, I’ll be taking part in the RSPB’s Gardenwatch, the nationwide scheme that encourages people to count the birds in their garden to get an impression of how they’re faring and I expect I’ll see good signs and bad. A good sign? The nuthatches who’ve moved into the area from England (coming over here taking our bird seed). A bad? The song thrushes: where have they gone, I wonder?

The reality of the situation has been laid out year after year in the Gardenwatch, which has been going now since 1979. What it shows is that the numbers of song thrushes have reduced in that time by around 80% and the decline is equally bad among other breeds, most famously house sparrows which are down at least 60% since the 70s, probably much more. Urban, woodland, upland, farmland: it’s the same everywhere, with kestrels, greenfinches and lapwings also in steep decline.

Another species we should be particularly worried about is the chough, which was the subject of a report published this week by the government agency with the rubbish name NatureScot. What the report predicts is that the red-billed chough may become extinct in Scotland within decades, with barely 50 pairs remaining in their last Scottish strongholds, Islay and Colonsay.

So what’s going on? In the case of the chough, we’re talking – as so often – about insecticide-heavy farming, which means there aren’t so many of the insects the bird feeds on (it mainly lives on grubs it can find in the soil). It’s about more than one issue of course, but until farmers change their ways (or we force them to), we’re unlikely to see a reversal. Face it: the chough could be gone from Scotland in 50 years or less.

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But there’s a bigger problem, which is reflected in the crisis with choughs and other birds. The British Trust for Ornithology says chough populations across Britain are highly fragmented but that the conservation work is currently not strongly coordinated across the UK and this is something I also heard when I was speaking to people about the bird flu crisis: the RSPB told me urgent action was needed to establish a national plan in Scotland which could be linked up to the rest of the UK.

I must admit my heart sank when I heard that, mainly because the Scottish and UK Governments have shown a morbid lack of willingness to cooperate on any issue, let alone one that quite plainly has nothing to do with borders: the natural world. We should, for example, have had a coordinated approach to XL Bullies, but no: our two governments did not, could not, would not cooperate and we ended up with a dog’s breakfast that wasn’t good for the animals, the owners, or anyone.

I hope that birds could be an exception, otherwise we’re screwed. On bird flu in particular, we need to coordinate surveillance and testing but we also need urgent action to develop a UK-wide national programme of conservation to deal with all the pressures we’ve put birds under: intense farming, habitat loss, you name it. Ranked for biodiversity, Scotland is near the bottom of the list. We should be ashamed of ourselves really.

We also still haven’t got our heads around the deliberate persecution of birds. It blows my mind that the law effectively means anyone can buy a gun and start shooting birds. In theory, you’re supposed to stick to the “quarry list”, which spells out which birds can be shot, but 80% of the birds on the list are of conservation concern. Can you believe it?

To be fair to the Scottish Government, they were apparently carrying out a review of the list, but the kind of people they were consulting was very dubious (mostly pro-shooting groups) and, as usual, it’s all gone quiet. It’s the same on the supposed licensing scheme for grouse shooting – the Werritty report recommended changes to the management of grouse moors in 2019, but five years on we’re still waiting.

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Perhaps it will change. Perhaps the two governments will realise bird conservation needs UK-wide solutions, although we may have to wait until both governments are Labour. In the meantime, we can do the little things: feed the birds, don’t keep your garden too tidy, and this weekend count the numbers in your garden. I’ll be taking part as I always do but I also realise it’ll be the same depressing and glorious experience. Oh look, a nuthatch. But where have all the song thrushes gone?