30 August 2002

New-style farming claimed to lead to loss of birdlife

THE longest running survey of its kind has resulted in comprehensive evidence linking the decline of farmland birds to intensive agriculture, claim researchers.

The survey by the University of Stirling has been running for 27 years. It collects data from a trap which nets insects flying long distances and maps them on to figures for bird populations and intensive farming practices.

"Since the study began we have seen a 50% fall in numbers of most species of insects," said team leader and senior ecology lecturer Tim Benton.

Important message

"Our results have an important message since there are good reasons to be able to extrapolate over a much wider area than just lowland Scotland."

Dr Benton claims the accuracy of the trap is proven by increased catches of insects which have benefited from intensive farming. Increased numbers of pollen beetles, which thrive in rape, barley frit flies and ground beetles have been recorded in recent years.

Numbers of important food species such as midges and mosquitoes have fallen over the same period, said Dr Benton. But he is optimistic that moves towards less intensive agriculture will help beleaguered species. &#42

"I would hope the worst is behind us. Things levelled off from the 1980s and if we have good Common Agriculture Policy reform that will help things recover."

Data for the bird species comes from the common bird census for lowland Scotland, while data on farming is from government statistics for Scotland.