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Farmland birds plea to Defra to be ignored?

[Monday 03 September 2007]

THE NEW environment minister Hilary Benn will today (Monday) receive an impassioned plea to do more to save rare farmland birds - but conservationists fear the their worries will not be heard.

The loss of set-aside with no replacement is about the worst thing that could
happen

Sue Armstrong Brown - RSPB

Because of widespread flooding throughout Europe, and the growing demand for biofuel crops, the EU has decided to abandon its set-aside scheme under which farmers have been subsidised to take land our of production.

This has proved a boon to several British bird species which have thrived in the "wild" areas, and conservationists will meet Mr Benn today to discuss future action to allow this improvement to continue. They are not optimistic, however.

Britain's biggest protectionist charity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has issued a gloomy statement which reads: "The rare stone-curlew, one of England's most elusive birds, has thrived on farmland set-aside, which has also helped declining skylarks, yellowhammers, lapwings and barn owls.

"Set-aside - land on which wheat, barley and other food crops cannot be grown - will be scrapped next year but the government has no plans to replicate its benefits despite its 2020 target to reverse farmland bird declines."

And of today's meeting, the society says: "We fear that Mr. Benn will ignore us."

Dr Sue Armstrong Brown, the RSPB's Head of Countryside Conservation, said: "The loss of set-aside with no replacement is about the worst thing that could happen to stone-curlews and other farmland birds, at the worst possible time."

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