DAIRY FARMERS and conservationists are working together in a bid to reverse the decline of UK farmland birds.

The decline has been most dramatic where grassland is farmed, for dairy, beef and sheep production.

The grey partridge and corn bunting are all but extinct in parts of the south-west, west midlands and north-west, while turtle doves are disappearing from south-western England and Wales.

More than 90 per cent of farmed land in those areas is devoted to dairy and livestock production.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is working with farming industry partners, including the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, on an application for DEFRA funding for a network of demonstration farms.

These demonstration farms will highlight measures that dairy farmers can take to help wildlife and the environment, without their incomes being affected.

This joint initiative will complement changes to the EU‘s Common Agricultural Policy, which from next year will offer funding for adopting environmentally friendly methods through the new Entry Level Scheme.

Steven Bailey, livestock policy officer at the RSPB said: “Intensive dairy and livestock farming, encouraged by the subsidies of the CAP, has turned much of our countryside into a green desert that looks pretty but has lost many of its bird species.

“Wildlife and agriculture should be thriving side by side and with farm payments changing from next year, dairy farmers will be able to help reverse farmland bird declines, and be paid for it,” said Mr Bailey.

Gethin Davis, Livestock Adviser at the RSPB said: “Up until now, there has been very little help for dairy farmers keen to encourage wildlife on their farms, and it is important that they know that these opportunities are now available.”

“Taking advantage of the new scheme could make a huge difference to bird numbers on grassland without affecting the livelihoods of the farmers putting wildlife friendly measures into practice.”