Bird recovery at GWCT and RSPB demonstration farms

A new study by the GWCT and RSPB has been published looking at the effects of management on farmland bird numbers at two demonstration farms – the GWCT’s Allerton Project in Leicestershire and the RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire.

GWCT's Allerton Project farm

Having published a wealth of peer-reviewed research in to the causes of farmland and songbird decline and possible management solutions, both organisations have achieved recovery in bird populations at their respective farms. This is in stark contrast to the sharp declines seen in the surrounding countryside.

At the GWCT’s Allerton Project, a wooded location with mixed farmland, predators occurred at a high density and so predator management in addition to habitat improvement helped to boost bird numbers.

Meanwhile the RSPB’s Hope Farm, situated on open and flat arable land, saw a lower density of predators and were therefore able to achieve an increase in farmland bird numbers through habitat management alone.

Further research now needs to be conducted to see how typical the findings from these two farms are when compared to the rest of the country.

Dr Nicholas Aebischer, of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, is first author and has been studying the ecological needs of farmland birds for 25 years. He said: “The dramatic recovery in songbird numbers within a few years is evidence that we have successfully identified the ecological requirements of declining farmland birds and demonstrated that we know how to satisfy them at a local scale. We encourage farmers and land managers to visit our farm, learn about the practicalities of management, and hopefully leave filled with enthusiasm to replicate our success on their own land.”

Dr Will Peach, from the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science, is one of the study’s authors and has been studying farmland birds for over 20 years. He said: “The hemorrhaging of some of our favourite songbird species from our countryside has been one of the greatest conservation issues that we have faced over the last two decades. Although restricted to two sites, our study highlights that creating suitable nesting and feeding habitats is potentially key for the recovery of threatened farmland birds, and we know that many farmers are eager to help nature through properly-funded wildlife-friendly farming schemes.”

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GWCT and RSPB demo farms

at 20:02 on 21/10/2015 by Bob McIntosh

Fantastic results from both projects linked to minimal loss of productivity. Shows how relatively easy it could be to reverse the decline in farmland birds across Scotland if only the EU and Scottish Government would design and apply CAP greening requirements, cross compliance and SRDP support in a way which reflects the lessons learnt at these demo farms. The application of greening requirements in Scotland at the moment is causing a nuisance to farmers while delivering very few benefits to farmland bird populations. A lost opportunity if ever there was one.

Predator Densities

at 14:35 on 20/10/2015 by Ian Whittaker

As you say, further research is necessary, especially as the farms concerned covered different environments. Based on this study, care has to be taken not to make conclusions about the efficacy of predator control and extrapolate that to support its use in other situations, particularly on land managed for shooting. Understanding the drivers that determine predator density is vitally important before any research into the benefits of both habitat improvement and predator control can deliver credible conclusions. Just about the only lesson we can draw from this study is that most agricultural practice outside the study areas is detrimental to sustainable songbird populations. With generalist predator numbers across the country stable at best and no evidence that specialist predators are the cause of declining farmland/songbird numbers, predation is not the primary driver. The irony is that some research shows that intensive predator control can increase predator density and the management of land for shooting supports higher densities of predators to the detriment of game birds and our natural birdlife alike.

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