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Bid to boost our declining farmland birds.

THE UK's farmland birds have seen numbers fall to record lows according to official figures.

In England, monitoring of 19 key species which rely on farmland for food or breeding revealed populations in 2009 had fallen by more than half since 1970.

The figures for the UK as a whole are almost as bad, with farmland bird numbers tumbling to just over half the levels they were four decades ago when the wild birds index - seen as a good indicator of the health of the countryside - began.

According to the statistics published by the Environment Department (Defra), most of the declines for farmland birds occurred between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, but between 2003 and 2008 there was a fall of around 8% in England and 7% across the UK as a whole.

There was also bad news for woodland birds which saw numbers fall by almost a quarter since 1970, though there has been little change in their fortunes in the past few years.

In woodlands and on farmland, the declines are largely driven by those species which are 'specialists' which means they are restricted to or highly dependent on a specific habitat.

* DECLINE: partridge The populations of specialist farmland species including grey partridges, turtle doves, starlings, tree sparrows and corn buntings have all seen numbers fall by more than 70% since the wild bird index began in 1970.

But a few farmland specialists like goldfinches have seen numbers increase by more than half in the last four decades.

The grey Among 'generalist' species which are found on farmland and other widespread habitats, yellow wagtails have declined by more than 70% but woodpigeons and jackdaws saw populations double since 1970.

In woodlands, specialists including willow tits, tree pipits, spotted flycatchers and the lesser spotted woodpecker have seen numbers decline by more than 70%, while others such as blackcaps, green woodpeckers and sparrowhawks have doubled their populations.

* THREAT: dove Well-known generalist woodland species including blackbirds, bullfinches and song thrushes have declined, but other garden favourites such as robins, wrens and long-tailed tits have seen numbers increase by more than half.

The RSPB said the decline of some farmland birds has been linked to decades of habitat change which resulted in a lack of suitable nesting sites and a shortage of food in spring or winter.

A turtle But the environmental charity believes the future of farmland bird species can be secured through the use of agri-environmental schemes which pay farmers to manage their land in a wildlife-friendly way.

The widest-reaching of these schemes is the Entry Level Scheme (ELS).

Dr Mark Avery, RSPB conservation director, said: "It is staggering that farmland birds, such as the turtle dove and lapwing, have reached such a low ebb.

"But the good news is that we know how to turn around these declines. Everyone now needs to play their part and get on with the job.

"Defra only has to tweak ELS a little to ensure a recovery in farmland birds such as skylarks and corn buntings.

"Our children could then hear as much birdsong as did their parents. A countryside richer in birds is within our grasp."


* DECLINE: The grey partridge * THREAT: A turtle dove
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 25, 2011
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