20 November 2000
Farmland bird numbers still falling

By FWi staff

FARMLAND birds face extinction because of intensive farming methods, according to new research.

Populations of skylark, grey partridge and corn bunting have fallen by 50% in the last 25 years, the annual breeding bird survey shows.

The joint research was undertaken by the British Trust for Ornithology, the RSPB and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

It also showed that between 1994 and 1999 bullfinch numbers fell 28%, corn buntings 26%, turtle doves 18%, skylarks by 16% and linnets by 14%

This alarming trend is largely blamed on increased use of herbicides and the switch to autumn sowing which deprives birds of winter stubble.

But there are exceptions to the gloomy trend with goldcrest numbers up 61% since 1994 and wren, redstart and great spotted woodpecker numbers up 42%.

Increases in numbers of small birds which are vulnerable to cold weather are attributed to a string of milder winters.

Earlier this year the Ministry of Agriculture pledged that farmland bird numbers will increase by 2020.

Meanwhile, one of Britains rarest birds, the bittern, has bred in Humberside for the first time in 20 years.

The Lincolnshire pair nested in reed beds at the Barton site of Special Scientific Interest run by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

This project was aided by 26,000 under the Ministry of Agricultures Countryside Stewardship Scheme, reports The Daily Telegraph.

Intensive farming and loss of habitat reduced bittern numbers to 11 booming males by 1997. Currently, there are no more than 22 pairs of bittern in Britain.