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New BTO research to help farmland birds

Decline continues

New research to help farmland birds

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has launched a new appeal today to help tackle the continuing decline of many once familiar farmland birds.

You might think that the decline of farmland birds is an old story and that the conservation efforts directed towards species such as Skylark and Yellowhammer mean that everything is now fixed. However, farmland bird populations have not recovered to former levels and while some populations have stabilised, others are continuing to decline. There is an urgent need to find out why things have not improved, which is why the British Trust for Ornithology has today launched its Farmland Bird Appeal.

BTO research has been central to the whole ‘farmland bird story’, from identifying declines, through diagnosing causes, to designing solutions for this conservation problem. The chief policy response has been to instigate agri-environment schemes. These schemes, which are funded through the EU Common Agricultural Policy, were set up to support farmers and land managers to farm in ways that support biodiversity, protect soil and water and enhance the landscape. Some of the scheme options were wholly or partly designed to provide resources for declining farmland birds.

Previous BTO research has highlighted limitations in some of the schemes, prompting modifications to improve their design. Although agri-environment schemes have succeeded in reducing the rates of decline of a range of farmland bird species, we have yet to see populations recover to former levels and, for some species, the rate of decline has increased over recent years.

Dr Gavin Siriwardena, Principal Ecologist at BTO, commented, "Many of us thought we had solved the problem of farmland bird decline, but the latest evidence suggests more research is needed to find conservation solutions that really work. It is evident from our latest results that there is still much that we do not understand about how to reverse the declines, making our Farmland Bird Appeal all the more important. If we can secure the funding then we can address some key questions and offer the best advice for farmers to deliver biodiversity benefits."

More than 60% of land in the UK is agricultural, so in many ways farmland is the British countryside. If we want to maintain our farmland bird communities, a central part of this countryside, then we need to understand how to make effective conservation efforts to deliver more favourable outcomes.

Gavin Siriwardena said, "Many farmers invest a lot of time and effort into protecting wildlife on their farms; we need to ensure that the available agri-environment scheme options work for birds and are also practical for the farmers who will implement them."


3rd May 2015