NEW DEFRA figures show that the long-term decline in farmland birds has stabilised and even reversed for a number of species in recent years, such as the greenfinch and stockdove.

The long-term decline since 1966 has halted, stabilising since 2000, and the lastest figures, from 2003, show that the population may be going up.

Junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw has welcomed the new figures showing encouraging trends in farmland bird numbers:

“Although numbers remain historically low, they appear to have stabilised, and we may now be starting to see the start of an upward trend.”

“It is too soon to say whether the changes reflect improvements in farming practices, although we believe that the £553m we have invested in agri-environment schemes since 2000 is making a significant contribution,” Mr Bradshaw said.

The stabilisation and possible early signs of a recovery in birds numbers start from a very low base, however.

The index of the population of farmland birds declined by over half between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, but has since been relatively stable.

This apparent stability hides a variety of trends.

Those species that declined massively over the last three decades some, such as Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove and Starling, continue to decrease.

However, recent upturns in the indices for others, including Lapwing and Reed Bunting, may be signs of recovery, according to DEFRA.