Wild birds would be badly affected if GM herbicide-tolerant winter oilseed rape were to be grown in the UK according to the Government's owns research, says the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The results of the final Farm Scale Evaluation show, says the society, that praying the crop with the herbicide Liberty, as recommended by Bayer Crop Science, the crop's manufacturer, would significantly reduce seeds of broad leaved weeds, such as chickweed, because most of these weeds would be destroyed.
Many farmland birds depend on seeds from broadleaved weeds, especially in autumn and winter, when other food sources are scarce. The skylark, tree sparrow and bullfinch are amongst species for which these seeds are crucial. All these birds have suffered serious declines in the last 30 years.
The trial found an increase in grass weeds, such as black grass. Birds would derive little benefit from this increase and farmers would be unlikely to allow these weeds to flourish. Traditionally they grow crops like oilseed rape as a break between the year-on-year cultivation of wheat and barley to allow them to control grass weeds.
Dr David Gibbons, Head of Conservation Science at the RSPB commented: "Broadleaved weeds are particularly important to farmland birds and the widespread cultivation of this crop, in this way, would damage hopes of reversing their decline."
Dr Mark Avery, Director of Conservation at the RSPB said: "Commercial cultivation of this crop would contradict the radical changes in agriculture policy introduced by the government to encourage environmentally-friendly farming. This crop will neither help farmers nor the wildlife they are now being encouraged to support."