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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 23:55 GMT 00:55 UK
Farm bird decline 'can be halted'
Skylark, RSPB
Could farming changes halt the decline of farmland birds?
Farmers who provide "bed and breakfast" for wild birds could help reverse the decline in farmland species, according to results from a five-year study.

The report showed bird numbers could increase four-fold if new measures were implemented in "green" farming schemes.

Six techniques were identified that would help reverse declines of species such as skylarks and yellow wagtails.

The report was carried out by Sustainable Arable Farming For an Improved Environment (Saffie).

This is a real opportunity for the government to meet its targets for reversing the decline of farmland birds
James Clarke

The organisation is made up of 21 farming, environment and research groups including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Trust and Syngenta.

James Clarke, Saffie project director, said: "The measures suggested by the Saffie research could enhance farmland biodiversity and are compatible with modern arable farming.

"This is a real opportunity for the government to meet its targets for reversing the decline of farmland birds. It's about providing bed and breakfast for farmland birds."

Wide open spaces

Research for the 3.5m Saffie project was carried out on 36 farms in England and Scotland.

It found that "skylark plots" - small, bare patches in arable fields - together with strips of grasses and wild flowers on field edges, increased the numbers of some birds three or four-fold.

Plant diversity and open spaces in these strips were important because they encouraged beetles, which are sought by birds as food for their young, and allowed birds access to them.

Using a herbicide to control fast-growing grasses allowed other plants, bees and butterflies to flourish.

Skylark plots were incorporated in the government's environmental schemes two years ago, but take-up has been low.

Sustainability call

The authors of the report believe changes to government schemes based on Saffie's findings will prompt more farmers to take part.

Measures for wildlife can be used by farmers without harming a farm's profits
Graham Wynne

Mr Clarke added: "We don't want uniform fields or field margins and are not suggesting that all farmers should do the same thing. But we need a diversity of habitat and, if we have that, we'll have a wide variety of thriving wildlife."

RSPB chief executive Graham Wynne said: "Measures for wildlife can be used by farmers without harming a farm's profits.

"The recommendations Saffie is making could make an enormous contribution to helping farmland species recover their numbers and making rural businesses more sustainable.

"We very much hope the government and Natural England will take these proposals on board."

The most recent State of the UK's Birds report painted an alarming picture of decline in farmland birds.

It said the skylark, the tree sparrow, the corn bunting and the yellowhammer were either in decline or had only stable numbers.

Alarm sounded for farmland birds
18 Aug 06 |  Science/Nature
Farmland bird decline 'slowing'
21 Oct 04 |  Science/Nature

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