CFE: Farming and environment can go hand in hand

Profitable farming need not be hampered by environmental measures, according to a long term agri-environment project.

The RSPB’s own Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire has seen a record year for farmland birds. Species on the farm – which features the latest wildlife-friendly farming measures – have risen 177% since the charity bought the land in 2000.

Ornithologists recored 234 breeding pairs of farmland birds on Hope Farm compared with 165 last year – an increase of 41%. At the same time, the farm’s wheat and oilseed rape yields are above the national average.

“These precious birds have been an important part of the English countryside for generations but in recent decades they have suffered huge declines,” said Mark Avery, RSPB director of conservation.

The RSPB was backing the campaign in a “concerted effort” to bring wildlife back to our rural landscape. “If these birds disappear then we will have lost a unique and defining feature of the English countryside.”

Published annually, the latest figures for 19 officially recognised farmland bird species – the Farmland Bird Index – show a prolonged decline in populations across England. But there are tentative signs of a recovery.

As is often the case with statistics, the figures are complex. England’s FBI continued its downward trend for the sixth year running, taking the indicator to its lowest ever level in 2008, with English farmland bird populations 52% lower than in 1970.

But there is hope. Although the FBI indicator signals a continued decline, the raw year-on-year data does show a small increase in bird numbers. And it is this increase that the campaign hopes to build on.

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