20 December 2001
Farmland bird numbers dip, but stable

By FWi staff

FARMLAND bird numbers fell last year, but show signs of stabilising after 30 years of decline, according to new government figures.

Statistics published by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, reveal that farmland bird numbers dropped back by 2% in 2000.

After a small increase in 1999, numbers have returned to levels that have remained similar since 1997, and slightly below 1993 levels.

This stability contrasts markedly with the rapid declines in the late 1970s and 1980s, said Defra.

Increased pesticide use and winter sowing have been widely blamed for the decline of farmland species such as the skylark and corn bunting.

Overall bird populations are 6% up on three years ago, while rare birds have more than doubled in number over the past 30 years.

The figures complied by the British Trust for Ornithology and the RSPB show a that woodland bird number were up 5% on 1999.

Environment minister Michael Meacher said: We are committed to achieving a long-term reversal of the decline in populations of wild birds.

Not only would our own lives without them be the poorer, but also they are an excellent indicator of the state of health of the natural countryside.

Mark Avery, RSPB Director of Conservation, said only changes to farming practices will stop the alarming disappearance of farmland birds.

Defra said Species Action Plans for the recovery of species such as the grey partridge, skylark and corn bunting are being implemented.

In 2002, new arable options aimed to benefit farmland birds will be introduced in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

Defra is using the farmland bird population index as a biodiversity indicator for sustainable agriculture.