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Farmland bird figures

…confirm urgent need for action, say RSPB

Government figures released today give a mixed picture of the fortunes of farmland birds in England with a continued downward trend in populations, but some tentative signs of recovery. Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) today unveiled its annual population figures on the 19 officially recognised farmland bird species - the Farmland Bird Index (FBI).

The official Government FBI indicator for England – which is calculated by taking current and previous years’ survey results into account – declined for the sixth year running in 2008. This means the current FBI indicator is at its lowest ever and farmland birds populations last year were 52% lower than when records began in 1970.

“These precious birds have been an important part of the English countryside for generations but in recent decades they have suffered huge declines," said Mark Avery, RSPB director of conservation. “The RSPB is backing a major new initiative from the farming industry, the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, which is being launched next month in a concerted effort to bring wildlife back to our rural landscape. These new figures show how vitally important it is that this campaign succeeds – if these birds disappear then we will have lost a unique and defining feature of the English countryside.”The FBI figure dropped by 2.26 per cent between 2007 and 2008, almost as steep as the drop between 2006 and 2007 of 2.37 per cent. Twelve of the 19 species on the FBI list declined between 2007 and 2008 and of those 10 have been in continual decline for the past four years.

As is often the case with statistical analysis of large amounts of data the story behind the figures is complex. Although the official FBI indicator figure signals a continued decline in farmland birds, the raw year on year data does show a small increase in bird numbers.

Dr Avery explains: “Statistics on bird populations rarely create graphs with perfectly straight lines as all kinds of unpredictable influences can cause fluctuations. So while this small one year increase is unlikely to indicate anything more than a blip in the figures, it does give us a glimmer of hope for the future of our farmland birds and should provide encouragement for farmers’ future efforts to help wildlife.”

Today also sees the release of similar survey figures for woodland and wetland birds, both of which are faring better than farmland birds. The English woodland bird index of 35 species has declined by 20% since 1970, while the wetland bird index of 26 species has increased by 12 % since 1975.

The RSPB’s own Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, meanwhile, has seen a record year for birds. The latest survey results show that the FBI species at Hope Farm - which features the latest wildlife friendly farming measures - have risen 177% since the charity bought the land in 2000.

The figures show there were 234 breeding pairs of FBI list birds on the farm this year compared with 165 last year – an increase of 41%. And once again the farm’s wheat and oilseed rape yields are above the national average.

4th July 2014