Twenty years of local farmland bird conservation: the effects of management on avian abundance at two UK demonstration sites
Capsule At two demonstration farms, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust's Loddington Farm in Leicestershire and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds's Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, targeted management led to much faster increases in avian abundance than in the surrounding regions.
Aims To compare changes in avian abundance at Loddington Farm since 1992 and Hope Farm since 2000, and relate these to regional trends in bird abundance and to the habitat and predator management conducted at the two sites.
Methods Loddington Farm is a mixed arable 292-ha farm in a partially wooded landscape in Leicestershire. It was managed as a shoot from 1993 to 2002, combining habitat management with predator control (stopped in 2002) and winter grain provision (ceased in 2006). Hope Farm comprises a 181-ha mainly arable farm in an open landscape in Cambridgeshire, where habitat management for farmland birds has taken place since 2002. At both sites, breeding bird abundance has been monitored annually. Information on farm management was translated into three variables measuring annual provision of nesting cover, summer food and winter food. The number of Carrion Crow and Magpie territories was used as an index of predator abundance.
Results Avian abundance increased at both farms much faster than within their respective regions. Recovery of priority species was positively correlated with the provision of summer foraging habitats and negatively correlated with the provision of supplementary grain during winter. The latter finding was counterintuitive and may reflect an increase in hedgerow provision that coincided with the cessation of grain provision at both farms. The increase in bird abundance was not sustained at Loddington Farm in the absence of predator control, although it was at Hope Farm where predator densities were markedly lower.
Conclusion The data from Hope Farm suggest that where predator densities are relatively low (<3 Crow + Magpie pairs/km2 locally, <0.2 Foxes/km2 in spring regionally), recovery of farmland birds can be achieved through habitat management alone. Where predator densities are high (>5 corvid pairs/km2 and >1.1 foxes/km2), as at Loddington Farm, species recovery, particularly of open-cup nesting species, may require predator control as well as habitat management. Further study is needed to confirm this tentative conclusion from only two sites.