26 November 2017

Farmland bird decline prompts renewed calls for agriculture overhaul

Birds living and breeding on the UK’s farmland have seen numbers decline by almost a tenth in five years, official figures show.

Farmland bird populations have declined by 56% since 1970, largely due to agricultural changes including the loss of mixed farming, a switch to autumn sowing of crops, a reduction in hay meadows and the stripping out of hedgerows.

While the majority of the decline happened in between the late 1970s and 1980s as farming practices changed rapidly, there was a 9% decline between 2010 and 2015, the statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show.

The latest figures have prompted renewed calls for an overhaul of farming as the UK leaves the EU and its system of agricultural subsidies, to support wildlife and farming.

The data showed some “specialist” species, those restricted to or highly dependent on farmland habitats, have seen precipitous falls.

Corn buntings, grey partridge, turtle doves and tree sparrows have all suffered declines of more than 90% since 1970, though others such as stock doves and goldfinches saw populations double.

For turtle doves in particular, dramatic falls continue, with numbers down 71% between 2010 and 2015.

Elsewhere in the countryside, woodland birds have seen numbers remain relatively stable over the last five years, although they are down almost a quarter (23%) since 1970.

Across all species, including farmland, woodland, wetland and waterbirds and seabirds, numbers are down around 8% on 1970, the figures show.

The RSPB’s head of land use policy, Jenna Hegarty, said: “Birdsong from some of our most iconic species once filled the air, but for many years the soundtrack of our countryside – from the song of the skylark to the purr of the turtle dove – has become quieter and quieter.

“Today’s figures show the number of farmland birds continues to drop. The farmland bird indicator has fallen by 9% in the last five years – the worst period of decline since the late 1980s. Many farmers are doing great things, and without their efforts, today’s figures would undoubtedly be worse. But the current agriculture system doesn’t work for our farmers or our natural environment, something needs to change.

“Leaving the EU gives us a seminal opportunity to overhaul the system, and use public money to build a more sustainable future, reversing the dramatic declines in farmland wildlife and supporting resilient and thriving farm businesses into the future.”

Credit to: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/23/farmland-bird-decline-prompts-renewed-calls-for-agriculture-overhaul