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Bad news for farmland birds

Last modified: 23 October 2014

Profile of turtle dove

Numbers of turtle doves fell by 96% between 1970 and 2012.

Image: Deacon_

We have today called on Defra to make 'every pound count' in a new wildlife-friendly farm scheme as official figures released this morning reveal another huge drop in the number of bird species, such as turtle dove, skylark and yellowhammer, reliant on farmed landscapes.

The Government’s Farmland Bird Indicator, published today, has revealed another significant fall in numbers. This indicator has been tracking the fortunes of 19 bird species that are dependent entirely on farmland.

Although partly driven by exceptionally bad weather in 2012, the underlying steady decline of the UK Farmland Bird Indicator has continued, with a 10 per cent decline in the last five years. The UK Farmland Bird Indicator has declined by more than half (55 per cent) since 1970. 

Reacting to the news, the RSPB is urging all UK Governments to ensure that payments to farmers for wildlife-friendly farming work as hard as possible by directing funding to those farmers who can make the greatest contribution towards conserving farmland wildlife and those who have the potential to begin restoring farmland bird populations.

'As shown in the State of Nature report, declines in farmland birds are replicated in other species as well, especially butterflies, moths and ground-dwelling beetles'

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s Conservation Director. He said: 'The sights and sounds of birds like the skylark and the turtle dove are part of our culture and yet, swathes of our countryside are falling silent as their numbers continue to haemorrhage.'

With less money available for these environmental payments in the future in England, the RSPB believes Defra has a great responsibility to ensure the recovery of these birds and other farmland wildlife by ensuring that nature-friendly farming payments are targeted towards those farmers who can help wildlife the most. 

Martin Harper added: 'Many farmers are already doing some great things through these schemes and without the schemes and farmers’ help, today’s figures would be, undoubtedly, worse. 

'But we need more to step up if our farm wildlife is to recover. As shown in last year’s State of Nature report, the declines in farmland birds are replicated in other species as well, especially farmland butterflies, moths and ground-dwelling beetles.

'If we carry on like this, it may be too late for the wildlife that calls our countryside home. 

'Defra has proposed a new scheme for the next six years that could help to address these declines. The key now is following through on these proposals to ensure that the right actions are targeted to save these precious species. Only then will the pubic get value for money in the form of a countryside richer in nature.'

The RSPB says that the New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS) will be key to this ambition and that properly targeted schemes will be key to the success of NELMS. 

In other habitats...

In addition to the Farmland Bird Index, indicators have been published for several other habitats. 

The headlines are: 

  • Woodland birds have remained stable in recent years, but remain down by 28 per cent overall
  • Water and wetland birds are a growing concern, having fallen by 12 per cent in five years, and are now 17 per cent down on their 1975 start point
  • The seabird indicator, revised in format this year, has declined by nine per cent in five years and is down by 24 per cent since 1986.

Due to increases in the 1980s and 1990s, the wintering waterbird indicator remains nearly double of its starting level, but even this indicator has shown recent declines. 

Martin Harper added: 'With all the wild bird indicators showing strong declines, today provides another clear signal that the UK’s nature is in crisis.' 

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