Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, amongst grass

FAQs - Why farming matters

Find answers to the frequently asked questions asked by farmers about the RSPB's involvement with farms and farmers.

Frequently asked questions

Are lapwings and skylarks really declining?

You may still see birds in the countryside but there are a lot less. The range (or areas of the UK where they are found) of many birds has not changed but their numbers have dropped. For example, for every four skylarks there were in the 1970s there is now just one.

Also the percentage declines are from national surveys. This means some areas may have lost fewer birds than the national average while other areas have lost more. If you are in an area which still has birds like corn bunting or lapwing then it is vitally important they are helped to thrive because it is easier to retain species than get them back to an area once they have been lost.

Does the RSPB blame farmers for bird declines?

The RSPB does not blame farmers for the losses we have seen in the farmland birds.

The problems lie in the policies which dictate how farmers run their businesses and how they manage their land. These policies - designed at a time of food shortages after the Second World War - encouraged increased food production. Responding to these signals, many farmers intensified their farming methods on arable and livestock systems.

The policies have failed to fully reward the vital conservation role farmers and crofters have in managing the land on which many species rely. Despite this, many farmers have worked to conserve species on their land - often at their own expense.

Does the RSPB think all farms should be organic?

Many organic farms have been shown to have benefits for birds and other wildlife as a result of factors such as varied crop rotations, mixed farming systems and sympathetic hedgerow management.

However, intensive management within organic farming regimes can have a detrimental impact on birds and other wildlife, and conversely, extensively managed conventional farms sympathetic to wildlife can provide conditions equally as good for biodiversity as organic farms. Therefore the RSPB is committed to working to improve wildlife populations across all farms.

Is the RSPB anti-farmer?

Quite the opposite - the RSPB recognises the vital role farmers and land managers have in conserving and enhancing wildlife habitats.

Also, we actually farm ourselves and more than 60 of the charity's nature reserves rely on farming. Grazing by sheep and cattle, for example, is essential for maintaining good heathland, moorland and wetland sites.

For example, the RSPB owns 400 cattle at Loch Gruinart on Islay and 400 sheep at Geltsdale in Cumbria. We also let land for grazing at 61 of our nature reserves - a total of 220 square kilometres - grazed by 5,200 beef animals, 4,500 sheep and a small number of dairy cattle.

We regularly publicise success stories about work to help birds such as stone-curlews and cirl buntings. We also use our own publications, such as Nature's Home magazine, to promote the conservation role of farmers and their work with us, to a readership of more than 1.5 million people. Working closely with around 2,500 land managers across the UK - supporting their vital conservation work - we know many enjoy the wildlife on their farms.

Isn't predation the real problem?

Predators can eat eggs, chicks and small birds but there is no evidence to prove they have a significant impact on the overall population of birds, especially nationally.

Birds are more sensitive to changes in the way in which land is managed - many farmers have secured the future of birds like cirl bunting by wildlife-friendly farming.

Scientific research has shown that the switch from spring-sown to autumn-sown cereals has affected skylarks. Crops sown in the autumn are too high and dense by June to enable skylarks to have second and third nesting attempts. This means they are not producing enough young to survive into the following breeding season.

The RSPB is currently undertaking research at its own arable farm to see if autumn-sown crops can be made more skylark-friendly.

Why is the RSPB involved in agriculture?

More than 70 per cent of the UK landscape is farmed and much of our birdlife, like lapwings and skylarks, have specialised to live on it. Unfortunately, many of these birds are currently declining and of major conservation concern.

The RSPB is working with the farming community in order to safeguard bird populations for future generations. By combining our knowledge and skills we hope to secure the future of these countryside birds within a competitive farming system.