Birds and lowland grassland management practices in the UK: an overview.
Lowland grassland in the UK can be categorized broadly as wet or dry grassland, each of which supports a characteristic assemblage of breeding and wintering bird species. Intensification of grassland management over the last fifty years has included extensive drainage, increased use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers, re-seeding, earlier and more frequent mowing and increased grazing pressure. With a few exceptions, intensification has in general been to the detriment of grassland birds and at least 42 bird species of current UK conservation concern are dependent on grassland at some stage in their life cycle. Species associated with wet grassland have benefited from the acquisition and management of wetland reserves, site management agreements and, to some extent, Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) schemes. However, these mechanisms have not been sufficient to prevent overall declines in many breeding bird species. Dry grassland research has provided recommendations for timing and mowing methods that reduce nest and chick mortality in agricultural, ESA and set-aside grassland. The success of grassland management for birds in reserves, ESAs and the agricultural ecosystem more generally, via other agri-environment schemes, depends on conservation becoming a key part of the EU Common Agricultural Policy. It is clear that long-term conservation of grassland bird species relies on EU resources being directed away from agricultural productivity towards policy that allows a sustainable integration of agriculture and conservation.