RSPB claim bird numbers success

Bird numbers at the Royal Society for Protection of Birds Cambridgeshire farm have hit an all-time high with wheat yields also above average for the year.

The site’s Farmland Bird Index – the population measure of the 19 birds most dependent on UK farmland – has risen 89% since the RSPB bought it in 2000.

In those seven years, the number of skylarks on the 450-acre Hope Farm site has trebled, from 10 pairs to 30 pairs, while yellowhammer pairs have increased from 14 to 36.

At the same time wheat yields have been consistently above the national average. Yields fell this year due to the appalling weather, but the farm still produced 8.64t/ha, above the national average of 7.3t/ha.

Chris Bailey, the manager at Hope Farm, said: “This shows wildlife-friendly farming works and does not reduce our capacity to produce the food we need.”

He said the farm’s success sprang from the way it had introduced measures across the farm to help a variety of birds.

“We have not sacrificed the factory floor for our wildlife delivery. It is how agri-environment schemes are deployed that determines their overall success. If we get the habitat right the birds will respond.”

The performance of birds at Hope Farm is in contrast to government figures released last week, which showed farmland bird numbers had reached their lowest point in England since records began in the early 1960s.

The RSPB fears the loss of set-aside from next year will put these birds under further pressure.

Sue Armstrong-Brown, the RSPB’s head of countryside policy, said: “The loss of set-aside has seen ministers put the onus on farmers to care for birds on their land.

“What we have achieved at Hope Farm can serve as a practical example of how farmers can rise to that challenge and reverse these declines.”