Five-year evaluation of the impact of the Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme on birds.
Agri-environment schemes could play a key role in the reversal of farmland bird declines. The effectiveness of the Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme for delivering farmland birds was tested in a replicated, farm-scale field trial, in two lowland farmland regions of England. Changes in numbers of birds over five years were compared between control and scheme farms. In East Anglia, productivity of Grey Partridges Perdix perdix was significantly higher on scheme than on control farms, although such an effect was not seen in the West Midlands where the species was rarer. At the field scale, wintering granivorous passerines and Skylarks Alauda arvensis responded to stewardship habitats (options) such as stubble and wild bird cover designed specifically to benefit them. However, at the farm scale, winter bird counts were higher on scheme than control farms only in the West Midlands, and not in East Anglia where the availability of set-aside and features managed for game in the wider landscape was higher. In the absence of other high-quality habitat, arable options are effective at providing good quality habitat, but the amount needed to exert an influence at the bird population level remains uncertain.