Farmers flock to stem bird decline

More agricultural land than ever is helping to halt the decline in farmland bird populations, reveal the latest figures from Natural England.

Farmers adopting bird-friendly measures as part of their environmental stewardship agreements mean more than 152,000ha (375,000 acres) of arable land are now providing vital winter food and wildlife habitats.

Some 10,000ha (25,000 acres) of farmland bird options were added by farmers within Higher Level Stewardship schemes during the last financial year (2010-11) alone, said the government’s landscape agency.

Senior wildlife adviser said James Phillips: “These heartening new figures show that farmers are taking significant steps to reverse that decline and restore the fortunes of some of our best-loved birds.

“But for this work to truly bear fruit, we need to carry on introducing bird-friendly farming options right across the country. The more land that is managed in this way, the more birds it will sustain.”

The decline of many farmland birds over the past 40 years had been an environmental tragedy, said Mr Phillips. But farmers were throwing a lifeline to species such as the lapwing and grey partridge, whose populations had plummeted.

Darren Moorcroft, RSPB head of countryside conservation, said: “These figures show what can be done with the right options in place, informed support and advice, and farmers who really care about our countryside.

“At this time of the year, parent birds face the challenge of finding enough food to feed their hungry chicks. The habitats being created on these farms will ensure there is a new generation of healthy birds singing from our fields and hedgerows.”

Environment minister Richard Benyon said nearly 57,000 farmers in England had joined agri-environment schemes. “It’s encouraging to see the growing interest and enthusiasm of farmers who are taking action to protect birds and habitats.”


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