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Country News - 2004

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Science and farmers save the skylark

Tuesday 08 June 2004

NEWS will be announced today that will put the song back into the British summer: the skylark is making a come-back, thanks to a two-year-experiment involving farmers, conservationists and Government scientists.

Skylark numbers have been decimated in recent years, depriving many areas of Britain of the song which was once the background music to summer. And some conservationists pointed the finger of blame at intensive farming methods.

As part of its biodiversity planning, the Government has made bird numbers a key indicator of the health of the rural environment and, two years ago, it asked the agricultural advisory service, Adas, to look into the bird's decline.

At a special science day for the media at Cambridge today, Adas will announce that they have found ways to ensure that skylarks and farmers can thrive side by side without either losing out.

The trial has revealed that farms yields can remain the same if small areas of field margins are left uncultivated, despite the weeds that bloom there, but these overgrown areas allow the skylarks to prosper.

Breeding success improved by an average of 49 per cent in cereal fields at the 15 test sites used in the Sustainable Arable Farming For an Improved Environment (SAFFIE) project. If the scheme was adopted across the UK, the 52 per cent decline of skylarks since 1970 could be reversed, experts say.

SAFFIE is backed by the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, which is contributing around £1.5 million to the project. It is co-funded by ten other organizations, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Crop Protection Association and HGCA.


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