25 February 2000
RSPB buys farm to halt bird decline

By David Green

THE ROYAL Society for the Protection of Birds is buying a farm to stage experiments aimed at finding ways to halt the decline in farmland wildlife.

A 750,000 appeal has been launched by the organisation in an attempt to finance the purchase of the 181.4ha farm, six miles west of Cambridge.

About one-quarter of the farm will be used to develop new wildlife-friendly farming methods, suitable for inclusion in agri-environment schemes.

The rest of the holding will be farmed conventionally, although environmental work will be carried out under an existing Countryside Stewardship agreement.

The farm currently grows 113ha of winter wheat and 56ha of oilseed rape on soils which are mainly Grade 2.

It is the second commercial farm in East Anglia to be purchased by a conservation organisation this year.

The Essex Wildlife Trust announced at the end of last month that it was buying a 700-acre coastal farm.

A large part of that farm will be involved in a managed retreat scheme which will revert arable fields to wildlife-rich marshland.

The RSPB is buying the Cambridgeshire farm because it wants to help lead the way towards the development of new agri-environment initiatives.

It is particularly concerned about the future of once-common farmland birds which have suffered declines in excess of 60% over the past 25 years.

Thinly-cropped nesting areas will be created for skylarks and less intensive cultivation will leave seeds in the fields for finches during winter.

Mark Avery, RSPB conservation director, said the decline of farmland birds was now a top priority for the society.

“Buying this farm is a long-term move which will allow us to develop new wildlife-friendly methods,” he said.

“This will enable us to communicate advice and best practice to farmers and decision-makers against a background of real farm economics.”

Knowledge gained will allow the development of full-costed alternatives in an era when subsidies are increasingly linked to environmental measures.