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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November, 2003, 18:13 GMT
'Green' farms save song birds
Yellowhammer
Traditional farm methods are helping to protect birds like the yellowhammer
A conservation body is singing the praise of a environmental project which is helping to hold up the numbers of rare song birds.

The Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) says it believes the Tir Gofal scheme, which pays farmers to return to more traditional ways of working the land, has halted the decline of the country's most threatened species.

Research for the projects suggest the move away from intensive agricultural techniques has also helped encourage other forms of native plants and wildlife.

The CCW, which advises the Welsh Assembly Government on conservation issues, is calling for the 16m Tir Gofal project to be extended as part of a drive towards a "green economy".

Those fields are attracting the target birds, and we see them as in good numbers
Dr Sian Whitehead

The CCW randomly selected 70 arable farms for the scheme and counted the number of rare birds seen feasting on such foodstuffs such as weeds and seeds left behind on fields managed under the project.

The crops fields studied grew sugar beet, turnip and potato as animal fodder, while the stubble fields grew the cereals oat and barley.

Some Welsh bird species have declined by up to 40% in recent decades.

But 44 of the 70 farms surveyed were found to have two or more species on a "red list" of seven in the greatest danger, including the skylark and the canary-like yellowhammer.

Skylark and chicks
Singing for supper: Skylark numbers have been helped by a change in farm methods

Two farms - one in Pembrokeshire and one in Monmouth - held five of these important species.

Dr Sian Whitehead, CCW's senior ornithologist, said: "Each arable field was counted twice during the winter and the results showed that 2,700 target birds, or 15 birds per hectare, were seen on root crop fields while 3757, 16 per hectare, birds were counted on stubble fields.

"Those fields are attracting the target birds, and we see them as in good numbers.

"Given the huge declines in many farmland birds, this is a very pleasing and encouraging result for Tir Gofal."

"The arable options within Tir Gofal, will not only help Welsh birds, but it will ensure that other plants - arable weeds for instance also thrive.

'Insect and mammals

"These, in turn will support a wide range of insects, and mammals like the brown hare."

Hundreds of farmers working more than 5,500 hectares have signed up to the Tir Gofal scheme.

Land owners are paid for restricting their use of insecticides and fertilisers as well as for environment management work such as hedge-laying - which provides habitat for bird life and other mammals - and footpath maintenance.

Modern farming techniques place an emphasis on crop yield.

It means weeds and seeds which birds and insects could feed on are often cleared away before they can be eaten.




SEE ALSO:
Farmers told 'nothing to fear'
24 Jul 03  |  Wales
Rewards for 'green' farmers
12 Dec 02  |  UK News
Growing deal for 'green' farms
11 Feb 03  |  Wales


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