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Country News - 2004

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New clues in farm bird decline

Wednesday 31 March 2004

ONE OF the biggest ever gathering of British ornithologists and allied scientists has come up with a clue which may answer the mystery of the catastrophic decline in farmland bird populations.

Many species – including the much loved skylark – have had their numbers halved or worse in the past thirty years and last weekend, 70 eminent scientists met at Leicester University to discuss ways of halting the decline.

The agency has a range of grants and advice available to help community groups set up their own transport partnerships but it recognises that transport for young people – who represent 30% of the rural population - represent a particular problem.

One theory under discussion was the possibility that the increased planting of winter wheat was one of the major causes, because it eliminated the corn stubble that was once left over winter and provided food and shelter for many species.

Many species have declined spectacularly since 1970. By 1999 the following figures were noted:

  • Tree Sparrow – down 95%
  • Corn Bunting – down 88%
  • Grey Partridge – down 86%
  • Turtle Dove – down 71%
  • Song Thrush – down 56%
  • Yellowhammer – down 53%
  • Skylark – down 52%
  • Linnet – down 52%

However, the mere fact that possible causes are being isolated means that measures can be taken to reverse the decline.

As Dr Juliet Vickery, one of the conference organisers said, "Shortly, we hope not only to say what resources and habitats we need but also when, where and how much of them are required. This is vital information if we are to see a reversal of the fortunes of our farmland bird populations and meet the government target of reversing the decline of the farmland bird index by 2020."


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