Birdwatch News Archive
Posted on: 18 Oct 2015
Many bird species reliant on agricultural landscapes have been declining sharply since the 1970s, but experiments on RSPB farms show how these trends could be reversed.
With many species of farmland bird – including iconic songbirds such as Skylark and Yellowhammer – losing more than half of their British breeding pairs over the last four decades (coinciding with a period of rapid and intense agricultural change), extreme concerns have been raised about these species' futures. Both the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and the RSPB have conducted a wealth of peer-reviewed research into the causes of the declines and how to manage them.
A new study by the two organisations published in the journal Bird Study has revealed that implementing such management solutions has brought about the rapid recovery of a broad range of songbirds at each charity’s demonstration farm. The study was performed at two farms, 42 miles apart in eastern England: GWCT’s 292-hectare Loddington Farm, in Leicestershire; and the RSPB’s 181-hectare Hope Farm, in Cambridgeshire.
Providing safe nesting sites and access to food has allowed farmland bird numbers to double or even treble in just five to 10 years. The recovery in bird abundance at these sites has been in stark contrast to the continuing declines seen in the surrounding countryside. This suggests that a greater roll out of wildlife-friendly farming measures should lead to a recovery in farmland birds in the wider countryside.
At the Leicestershire site, where predators occurred at a high density, the recovery of species such as thrushes and finches – which make open ‘cup-like’ nests – required predator management as well as habitat improvement in order to boost numbers. In comparison, at the Cambridgeshire site, where the density of predators was low, farmland bird recovery was achieved solely by habitat management. Predator density is probably a function of landscape type, this being wooded with mixed farmland in Leicestershire, but open, flat and mainly arable in Cambridgeshire.
Previous studies have found no evidence that crows and Magpies limit songbird numbers across the country as whole, but that they may do so locally. Further research is needed to understand how typical the Leicestershire and Cambridgeshire situations are compared to the rest of the country.