17 November 2000
Global warming threat to birds

By Alistair Driver

GLOBAL warming could threaten farmland birds by encouraging farmers to adopt increasingly intensive practices, warns the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The charity says how farmers adapt to climate change will have a big impact on the chances of survival for birds such as the linnet, skylark and songthrush.

They are already at risk from intensive farming, the society says.

Global leaders this week met at The Hague, in Holland, to discuss how to halt the damaging impact of global warming at a conference.

The RSPB took the opportunity to issue warnings from a report it has commissioned on how farmers could be pressurised into more intensive methods.

Producers might be tempted to plant more winter crops to take advantage of warmer winter weather, reducing feeding and nesting opportunities, it says.

The report also warns of greater chemical use on farms which will affect wildlife and reduce the food available to birds.

Farmers may use more fertilisers and chemicals to take advantage of increased yield opportunities presented by the warmer weather, it claims.

Climate change is likely to lead to increased populations of pests and weeds, which could encourage farmers to respond with more pesticides and herbicides.

“We know that birds are already reacting to climate change. But we need a lot more research to understand how both farming and farmland birds will respond,” said RSPB director of conservation Mark Avery.

He called for scientists and farmers to work together to find ways of responding to climate change.

The report also calls for every effort to be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are widely blamed for causing global warming.

Representatives of more than 150 governments met to discuss how to reduce global emissions by 5% by 2012, a target set at the 1997 Kyoto conference in Japan.

The convention has so far failed to make much progress, with the US showing considerable reluctance to commit itself to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

“There has been a global temperature rise of 0.6°C over the last century,” said NFU environment adviser Jacob Tompkins.

“The effect has just been felt with the floods and there are going to be more storms and more floods in the future.”

He backed moves to cut UK greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5%, but said the NFU will continue to oppose the introduction of an energy tax next year.