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Restore Threatened Farmland Birds

RSPB Urges Swift Action

The government has revealed the populations of some of our most-cherished countryside birds fell last year to their lowest levels in the UK and England since 1970. The RSPB believes that following the removal of set-aside earlier this year further declines in farmland birds are inevitable. The Society is urging the government to take swift action to restore the fortunes of these birds.

This morning [Friday 31 October, 2008] Defra published data revealing further declines in the overall numbers of farmland birds across both England and the UK. Analysis of the figures reveals that the collective population of farmland birds, including grey partridge, lapwing and turtle dove, has fallen to less than half of the level in 1970.Today’s disappointing result is a blow to those who hoped the figures would create more optimism. This further fall in numbers is puzzling as farmers across England in 2007 were in the third year of Environmental Stewardship – a scheme designed to reward those farmers who farm in more wildlife-friendly ways.

The RSPB supports Environmental Stewardship but says that these results show that a wider range of the right conservation measures must be taken up on farmland before bird populations respond across the country. Where farmers are carrying out conservation packages designed to meet all the needs of wildlife round the year, the local picture is better.Gareth Morgan is the RSPB’s lead agricultural policy officer. Commenting on today’s results he said: “The further drop in the numbers of some farmland birds is deeply troubling. This is a credit crunch for birds. We know the general intensification of farming, driven by the Common Agricultural Policy, has accounted for the majority of the historic decline in farmland birds, but with good conservation support now available for farmers this year’s results are dismaying. Today’s shock results provide a clarion call of the need to stave off further declines of farmland birds. In partnership with farmers we need to ensure the best wildlife-friendly farming techniques are used to give our farmland birds the greatest chance of survival.”

In light of these figures, the RSPB is calling for more farm subsidies to be diverted to environmental schemes around the UK and for better use to be made of the resources already available.The RSPB is particularly concerned about further declines of farmland birds that will inevitably be triggered by the scrapping of set-aside earlier this year. This measure took farmland out of agricultural food production and provided beneficial habitats for many farmland birds.

Gareth Morgan added: The declines in farmland birds reported today do not include those that will be lost because of the scrapping of set-aside. Unless compensatory measures can be put in place to cover the void left by the removal of set-aside, farmland birds will continue to slide, putting even more extreme pressure on some populations.”

Since 1999, the RSPB has owned a 181-hectare farm in Cambridgeshire. This farm is among the best of performing farms for profitability in the region and here the population of farmland birds has bucked the national trend. Between 2000-2007 the numbers of farmland birds doubled on the farm: in the same period in the UK the numbers of farmland birds dropped by around six per cent.Gareth Morgan added: “Using the measures available to all farmers, the RSPB has proved that combining productive farming with rising numbers of farmland birds is easily achievable. We are eager to share our knowledge and successes with other farmers to put bird song back into the countryside.”

The UK farmland bird indicator includes 19 species of farmland bird. These are: corn bunting; goldfinch; greenfinch; grey partridge; jackdaw; kestrel; lapwing; linnet; reed bunting; rook; skylark; starling; stock dove; tree sparrow; turtle dove; whitethroat; woodpigeon; yellowhammer; and yellow wagtail. Of these species only stock dove, woodpigeon, goldfinch, greenfinch and jackdaw have shown increases since 1970. No comparative figures are available for rook.

4th July 2014