Environmental Stewardship is now critical to securing a future for farmland birds, Natural England said this week following the publication of Wild Bird Populations 2007 by Defra. The report shows that farmland bird numbers have continued to record alarming falls.
Over the years, intensive farming and the destruction of habitats like hedgerows and field margins, have seriously impacted farmland biodiversity, with wild plants, insect, bird and mammal populations all facing significant declines. Climate change will only add to the problem and following the removal of compulsory ‘set-aside’ last year, over 200,000 hectares of uncultivated land has been brought back into production, putting further pressure on farmland wildlife.
Andrew Wood, Executive Director of Policy for Natural England, said: “Environmental Stewardship options such as uncultivated field margins, well managed hedgerows and overwintered stubbles are crucial to provide the feeding and nesting places for declining birds like grey partridge, turtle dove, skylark, corn bunting and lapwing. With today's evidence that farmland bird numbers are continuing to fall, it is clear that Environmental Stewardship has a fundamental role to play in improving farmland biodiversity.”
Environmental Stewardship, delivered by Natural England, gives payments to farmers who adopt the type of environmentally friendly farming practices that are essential to reverse the alarming declines in our farmland biodiversity.
Environmental Stewardship supports a wide range of habitat management for birds on farms - like the planting of wild seed mixtures and the creation of fallow plots for ground-nesting species. Where stewardship agreements have been taken up by land managers, the environmental benefits are visible. In south Devon, the numbers of cirl buntings have increased three-fold thanks to wildlife sensitive farming techniques including the growing of low-input spring barley and the retention of weedy over winter stubbles.
Likewise, the provision of special nesting plots through stewardship has been a key factor in the more than doubling in the numbers of stone curlews breeding in England since the mid-1990s.
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