By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
Modern farming in Europe has reduced the numbers of 24 common bird species by a third in a quarter of a century, a report by European ornithologists says.
Corncrake: A warning to the new EU members (Image: Chris Gomersall)
The authors include staff of the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and of BirdLife International.
They say the declines were steepest in countries in north-west Europe, in the regions of most intensive agriculture.
They say the 10 countries due to join the European Union on 1 May must learn from the example of its older members.
Beyond the EU's borders
The study on the population trends of wild birds, by the RSPB, BirdLife and the European Bird Census Council, is known as the farmland bird indicator.
It includes information for 24 common and widespread species of farmland bird from 11 present members of the EU, five which will join in May 2004, and Norway and Switzerland.
The indicator shows that across Europe, from Spain to Poland (including the UK), the species' numbers, including skylarks, lapwings and yellowhammers, have crashed by a third since 1980, and says this is because of intensive farming.
Lapwing numbers have plummeted (Image: Andy Hay)
The RSPB says: "These declines have been severest in countries in north-west Europe. In the UK, for example, between 1970 and 1999, the skylark declined by 52%, the yellowhammer by 53% and the corn bunting by 88%."
BirdLife members are urging the European Commission and governments of both member and accession states to put the environment and wildlife at the heart of farming policy.
The RSPB says 150 of the 453 birds regularly found in Europe rely on sustainable farming to survive.
It says: "Birds at most immediate risk are those particularly vulnerable to intensive agriculture, such as the corncrake, the red-backed shrike and the great bustard. Currently, eastern European states have significant populations of these birds.
If the new EU members do not act on this warning, BirdLife says, "there will be further massive declines or even extinctions of wildlife... especially in those areas as yet relatively untouched by the ravages of intensive farming".
The yellowhammer is one of the species at risk (Image: Andy Hay)
Graham Wynne, the RSPB's chief executive, said: "Governments of the newest members must learn the lessons from countries like the UK, where declines of farmland wildlife have seen once common species, like the tree sparrow and lapwing, disappear from many areas.
"They should use EU financial support to maintain farming systems which respect environmental limits and leave room for wildlife.
"The decline of the corncrake has been one of the most obvious effects of the industrialisation of farming across Europe.
"Subsidies paid to farmers to maximize output have driven it out of much of the EU. This has been so marked you can pick out the outline of the Common Agricultural Policy imprinted on the distribution map of the bird."
Images courtesy and copyright of photographers and rspb-images.com