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Europe`s Birds Crash in Intensively Farmed Land

?dire warning for the future of Europe`s farmland birds?

A new study on the population trends of wild birds [The farmland bird indicator has been produced by the RSPB, the European Bird Census Council and BirdLife International with the support of the European Environment Agency - through the European Topic Centre/Nature Protection & Biodiversity. The indicator includes information for 24 common and widespread species of farmland bird from 18 European countries, including: 11 existing members of the European Union; five countries joining the European Union on 1 May 2004; and Norway and Switzerland], published today, shows that across Europe, from Spain to Poland (including the UK), the numbers of 24 widespread farmland birds, including skylarks, lapwings and yellowhammers, have crashed by one third since 1980, as a result of intensive farming.These declines have been severest in countries in north-west Europe. In the UK, for example, intensive agriculture has squeezed wildlife out of many former strongholds. Previous RSPB research* has shown that the population declines of farmland birds have been greatest in those European countries with the most intensive farming systems. In the UK between 1970 and 1999, the skylark has declined by 52 per cent, the yellowhammer by 53% and the corn bunting by 88 per cent.

With only just over 100 days to go until 10 countries join the European Union, 25 European members of BirdLife International, including the RSPB, are calling on the European Commission and governments of member and accession states today to put the environment and wildlife at the heart of farming policy. Otherwise, the coalition says, wildlife and the environment will continue to suffer.

* The paper, Agricultural intensification and the collapse of Europe`s farmland birds, was written by the RSPB`s Paul Donald and Rhys Green and BirdLife International`s Melanie Heath. The paper was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society London B in 2001. The paper showed that population declines and range contractions of European farmland birds across 31 European countries were significantly greater in countries with more intensive agriculture, and significantly higher in the European Union than in former communist countries.Out of the 453 or so species of bird occurring regularly in Europe [defined as the 25 members of the European Union, from 1 May 2004; and Norway; Iceland; Switzerland; Romania and Bulgaria. It excludes: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey and the Caucasian republics.], 150 (around one third) are reliant on sustainable farming for their future survival. Birds at most immediate risk are those particularly vulnerable to intensive agriculture, such as the corncrake, the red backed shrike and the great bustard. Birds which have been lost as regular breeding birds from England and much of north-west Europe and which will be threatened by agricultural development elsewhere in Europe. Currently, eastern European states have significant populations of these birds. [On 1 May 2004, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will accede to the European Union, bringing the number of member states to 25].BirdLife International believes it is vital the governments of the 10 countries joining the European Union on 1st May heed the stark warning. Otherwise, the organisation warns, there will be further massive declines or even extinctions of wildlife reliant on the continent`s farmed landscapes, especially in those areas as yet relatively untouched by the ravages of intensive farming.

Graham Wynne, the RSPB`s chief executive, and Olaf Tschimpke, president of NABU (the RSPB`s partner in Germany), will deliver BirdLife International`s warning at a seminar in Berlin today. Other speakers addressing the conference will include Renate K?naste, Germany`s Minister for Agriculture. Speaking ahead of the conference, Graham Wynne, said: For more than three decades the wildlife of the European Union has been ravaged by agricultural production subsidies encouraging intensive farming ahead of sustainability and the environment. Governments of the newest members to join the EU must learn the lessons from countries like the UK, where declines of farmland wildlife have seen once common species, like the tree sparrow and lapwing, disappear from many areas. They should use EU financial support to maintain farming systems which respect environmental limits and leaves room for wildlife.

Graham Wynne added: The decline of the corncrake has been one of the most obvious effects of the industrialization of farming across Europe. Subsidies paid to farmers to maximize output have driven the corncrake out of much of the European Union. In fact, this has been so marked you can pick out the outline of the Common Agricultural Policy imprinted on the distribution map of the bird.

For further information please contact: Grahame Madge, RSPB press officer, on 01767 681577. Out of hours, please telephone: 07702 196902 (mobile) or 01234 870627 (home)

4th July 2014