Monitoring of agri-environment schemes

Monitoring the response of farmland biodiversity to agri-environment schemes to ensure effectiveness and value for money in delivering more for wildlife

RSPB Dowdeswell


Many farmland species are among our most threatened wildlife. Agri-environment schemes (AES) provide funding to farmers to farm in a way which preserves biodiversity and improves the quality of environment. Reversing the decline of farmland birds is a targeted outcome of AES policy both nationally and internationally. Monitoring the response of farmland birds and other wildlife to AES is important to inform improvements in scheme design and operational delivery, thereby increasing both scheme effectiveness and efficiency. The RSPB is involved with a number of projects which monitor the effectiveness of AES in recovering farmland biodiversity across the UK.


  • Review of the potential benefits of AES.
  • Field monitoring of the value of specific AES options (or packages of options) designed to deliver biodiversity benefits.
  • Farm-scale surveys to assess the ongoing impact of AES on local population growth of priority farmland birds relative to those on land not in AES.
  • Modelling the success of AES in delivering wider-scale population recovery.


Key Dates

  • Monitoring effect of English Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme on birds (1999-2003).
  • Monitoring effect of Welsh AES on multiple taxa (2009-2012).
  • Monitoring effect of English Higher Level Environmental Stewardship (HLS) on birds (2007-2017).
  • Monitoring effect of Northern Ireland Countryside Management Scheme (CMS) on birds (2006-2014).
  • Monitoring effect of AES options/ packages on birds eg various HLS options (2009-12), lapwings in the uplands (2006-2010), turtle doves (2015), corn buntings in Scotland (2003-2009 and 2015).


Our farm-scale monitoring involves collecting data on abundance (or changes in abundance over time) from farms with AES agreements compared with farms or square kilometres in the same geographical areas which do not contain wildlife-friendly AES options. This approach has been successful in measuring the response by birds to schemes in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as for other taxa groups in Wales.

At the option/package scale, responses have been evaluated in a similar manner for lapwing and corn bunting and by examining which types of measures are associated with occupancy or abundance of turtle doves.

Planned Work

  • Environmental Stewardship Monitoring and Evaluation (Lot 7: Birds): A collaboration between BTO and RSPB on behalf of Natural England to evaluate the benefits for birds of AES in England.
  • 2017 HLS resurvey to provide data on changes in bird abundance 2008-2017 across the lifespan of scheme agreements relative to those in the wider countryside.
  • Analysis of the effect of the Farmland Bird Package (FBP); a bespoke package of AES options aimed at reversing farmland bird decline. The work will provide the first evidence on whether 28 FBP farms exhibited more positive population responses compared to the wider countryside without bird-friendly AES management.


  • Between 2008-2014, six species plus the suite of Farmland Bird Index species showed enhanced abundance on farms with HLS. A further seven species exhibited a temporary enhancement in abundance on HLS between 2008-2011 that subsequently disappeared by 2014. This temporary response to HLS followed failure of key options during successive wet and cold summers
  • Changes in abundance were more positive on farms with CMS for yellowhammer, house sparrow and tree sparrow, but were more negative for linnet, although this was caused mainly by a large reduction at a single farm.
  • In Wales, yellowhammer and brown hare were more abundant and the arable plant community more diverse on the Tir Gofal AES than on non-AES sites. However, there were no differences in abundance/occurrence or other evaluated species.
  • In North East Scotland, corn bunting populations declined on sites with no AES, remained stable on ‘standard’ AES and increased on AES with advisory support during 2003-2009; although more recently there has been no difference in trends, perhaps due to a reduction in advisory support.  
  • For lapwings in the uplands, habitat suitability for nesting and chick rearing was generally improved under AES management. Densities and chicks fledged increased as the suitability of habitat for nesting and chick rearing increased.


Coast on a stormy day

Dr Tony Morris

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Andrew Bladon

Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Kendrew Colhoun

Senior Conservation Scientist, Reserves Team
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Michael MacDonald

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Jen Smart

Head of Conservation Science Scotland & Northern Ireland, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Allan Perkins

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Tagged with: Country: England Country: Northern Ireland Country: Scotland Country: Wales Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Upland Species: Corn bunting Species: Curlew Species: Grey partridge Species: Lapwing Species: Linnet Species: Reed bunting Species: Skylark Species: Tree sparrow Species: Turtle dove Species: Yellowhammer Project status: Ongoing Project types: Research