3 January 2001
RSPB denies organic threat to birds

By FWi staff

THE RSPB has distanced itself from claims that organic farming may pose a similar threat to bird numbers as conventional food production methods.

The British Ecological Society claims that preliminary data from an RSPB survey shows organic grassland does not provide more food for farmland birds.

Despite organic farmings image, an RSPB survey of 400 grass fields on 23 lowland farms found that bird numbers were similar as on conventional farms.

The ecological society claims the survey indicates that intensive farming methods, such as silaging, reduce bird numbers more than pesticide use.

Frequent cutting of grass to make silage instead of letting it grow into hay means there are no stray seeds to provide winter food for birds.

But Andy Evans, RSPB head of terrestrial research, said he “disappointed” with the British Ecological Societys interpretation of the results.

It was a shame that the society had chosen to focus on the organic issue which was a small part of ongoing research, Mr Evans told FARMERS WEEKLY.

The conclusions were also queried by the Soil Association.

Phil Stocker, Soil Association producer services manager, said such an interpretation was invalid because the data only considered over-wintering birds.

Organic farmers are just as likely to make silage as conventional farmers, which would give similar results for over-wintering populations, he added.

But organic operations were more bird-friendly as they were often mixed, with greater areas of grassland and increased arable cropping, said Mr Stocker.

“This has looked at one management technique rather than looking at the holistic nature of organic farming, which provides the perfect foundation for integrated agriculture.”

The British Ecological Society said introducing small batches of arable crops within grasslands could have a marked effect on farmland bird populations.