Farmland bird numbers fall

The RSPB has called on Defra to make “every pound count” in its new wildlife-friendly farm scheme as new official figures revealed another drop in the number of bird species, such as turtle dove, skylark and yellowhammer, which are reliant on farmed landscapes.

Government figures show a decrease in farmland bird species, including the skylark.
Government figures show a decrease in farmland bird species, including the skylark.

The Government’s Farmland Bird Indicator tracks the fortunes of 19 bird species dependent on farmland and its latest findings show that these species have declined by 10 per cent in number over the last five years.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, 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 hemorrhage.”

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He said Defra has a great responsibility to ensure the recovery of these birds and other farmland wildlife by ensuring that nature-friendly farming payments - under the New Environmental Land Management Scheme as part of EU farming subsidy reforms - are targeted towards farmers who can help wildlife the most.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We want to protect farmland birds and help them thrive - that’s why we have incentive schemes for farmers to protect bird habitats. We know that our schemes benefit a range of farmland birds, for example Cirl Bunting and Chough populations are starting to recover.

“Next year we are introducing a new incentive scheme for farmers designed to be even more targeted and effective at helping farmland birds recover.”

Some farmland and woodland bird species numbers, such as the goldfinch, blackcap, great spotted woodpecker, almost doubled between 1970 and 2012, Defra said.