Europe’s farmland birds at lowest-ever level

Farmland bird numbers across Europe have fallen to their lowest level since records began, according to a European survey of bird populations.

The Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme looked at populations of 145 of the most common bird species in 25 European countries between 1980 and 2009.

It found half of the top ten most threatened birds across Europe were farmland birds, with numbers plummeting to an all-time low. Species particularly at risk included the grey partridge, which has declined by 90% in the UK, and the linnet, which has declined by 57%.

The RSPB said the results showed that farmers in Europe needed to be rewarded and encouraged for putting conservation measures on their land.

It said it was vital proposals for the upcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which are due to be unveiled in October, contained more support for agri-environment schemes which funded wildlife-friendly farming measures.

“We know that farmland birds have halved in number in the UK since the 1970s, but these shocking figures show that the story is the same across Europe,” said Jenna Hegarty, RSPB CAP policy officer.

“This is no coincidence – the one thing that farmed landscapes in European countries all have in common is that they are shaped by the Common Agricultural Policy.

“This policy has helped farmers to produce more food, but wildlife has suffered as a result.”

Ms Hegarty said proper targeted funding in the CAP could reverse the decline in bird numbers and help farmers produce more food.

“I hope these stark figures on wildlife population declines bring home to policy makers the vital importance of a CAP that works for people and nature,” she added.

“Many farmers are doing brilliant things for wildlife, but there still isn’t enough money in the pot. It’s not a choice between food and birds, because we can have both.”

Declines in common European birds:

Name                          Long-term UK decline    Short-term European decline

Grey partridge             -90%                                  -66%

Goldcrest                    -11%                                  -61%

Meadow Pipit             -43%                                  -51%

Linnet                         -57%                                  -49%

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