Agriculture

Since the mid-20th century, there have been substantial changes in UK agriculture.
Skylark (alauda arvensis) sitting in heather, South Stack RSPB reserve, Wales

Overview

Generally, this has led to spectacular increases in production but has often unintentionally had a detrimental effect on wildlife.

While numbers of wild bird species across all habitats have remained relatively static in the UK, the Farmland Bird Indicator is now at its lowest level ever - less than half of its 1970 value.

The continuing drive to produce more food to satisfy growing human populations, lifestyle changes and the need to mitigate the impact of climate change on agricultural production means UK farming will continue to intensify.

To address continuing agricultural change and the pressures it places on wildlife, we operate a large and varied research and monitoring programme across all types of UK farmland.

This has identified many of the relationships between environmental impacts and wildlife population declines and land management solutions which address the problems at minimal cost to farmers.

Sub-themes

Environmental impacts

Our scientists investigate a range of impacts resulting from changes in food production. These can be direct, such as grassland management reducing the ability of birds to nest successfully; indirect, such as lead shot poisoning predators higher up the food chain; or both, such as pesticides causing direct mortality in non-target organisms and reducing availability of seed or invertebrate foods to other animals.

Not all impacts are adverse and some agricultural techniques can aid wildlife. At the RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, we show it is possible for wildlife and productive, profitable farming to co-exist. Most European countries have agri-environment schemes which contain wildlife-friendly management, although these are not always the most frequently-adopted options.

Land management solutions

Understanding the environmental impacts brought about by changes in agriculture allows us to design and test potential solutions to conservation problems.

To be widely adopted by farmers, solutions must be practical, low-cost or remunerated by initiatives such as EU agri-environment schemes (AES).

The RSPB is at the forefront of testing practical solutions for farmland birds, which are thoroughly evaluated to ensure they work before being rolled out more widely via mechanisms such as AES.

RSPB monitoring of AES provides governments with evidence on how effective the schemes are in delivering increases in bird populations at the farm-scale and beyond.

Who's involved

Coast on a stormy day

Dr David Buckingham

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

david.buckingham@rspb.org.uk
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Rosemary Setchfield

Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

rosemary.setchfield@rspb.org.uk
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Tony Morris

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

tony.morris@rspb.org.uk

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