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    More farmers must become involved in conservation

    NewsEnvironment & Nature NewsMonday 04 June 2012
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    Birdtrader

    We were pleased to see that the plight of farmland birds received so much space in the Observer. We agree with much of what Robin McKie reported ("'Sleepwalking into disaster': how Europe's bird numbers collapsed", News) and we are disappointed that the UK is not an oasis in a European desert of farmland bird decline. We are no better than our European counterparts in spite of some well-targeted stewardship schemes, designed in the UK and paid for by European money.

    The Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) was well designed but only 10% of English farmers were involved, maybe through some lack of interest and because too much money went to a few large estates.

    Most farmers did not view it as their opportunity. Entry Level Stewardship lowered its requirements and involved more than 60% of farmers but was so unchallenging that it failed to deliver much wildlife. Higher Level Stewardship, which is replacing CSS, demands a lot more effort, is very targeted in terms of habitat and species and is more difficult to get into. Perhaps a middle-range scheme is also needed.

    But what is often missing is a much more positive attitude to bird conservation on the part of farmers and advisers. We are now dealing with the potential of a number of endangered species and it is vital that farmers should want to bring about a recovery of numbers because a "living countryside" is good for us all. If we get closer to natural systems, we learn more about ourselves and life itself.

    The Countryside Restoration Trust has achieved an increase in farmland birds of 300% in less than 20 years since the trust was started. This involves a mosaic of crops including spring cropping, no block cropping and a mix of bird mixes, beetle banks, grass margins and meadows.

    Successful conservation starts with a clear understanding of the needs of the species in decline. The needs of any one species is simple; protection from the weather and predators, food and nesting areas.

    Clearly no animal or plant lives in isolation and within any one habitat there is usually a range of animals and plants. They have a dependence on others and this makes species conservation even more fascinating.

    John Terry

    Conservation and education adviser

    The Countryside Restoration Trust

    Cambridge

    Although there has been a decline in what are termed farmland bird "specialists" over the past 40 years, the broader measure of farmland bird generalists has shown a modest increase. The RSPB itself recognises that farmers are working hard to maintain and enhance our countryside, while the use of other environmental measures indicates that the reasons for the decline are likely to be far more complex than solely agricultural practices.

    English rivers are at their healthiest for 20 years; otters have returned to all English counties; the use of pesticides and fertilisers has fallen; and almost 70% of the area of farmland in England is under an agri-environment scheme agreement.

    The NFU and farmers are working in partnership with a number of organisations, including the RSPB, as part of the industry-led Campaign for the Farmed Environment. Initiatives such as this campaign have had a real impact in helping farmers decide how to make the right environmental choices alongside producing food.

    Dr Diane Mitchell

    Chief environment adviser

    NFU, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire

    The demise of many bird species in the UK is a concern but the land management practices in Windsor Great Park seem conducive to bird survival.

    I would guess it's down to low usage of pesticides and grasslands left uncut. Recently, we counted 20 lapwings (peewits) in a field and regularly lose count of the biodiversity in the park… red kites, pheasants, geese, parakeets, pigeons, jackdaws, grouse, owls.

    Sourec: The Guardian

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