For centuries, farmland birds have coexisted with agriculture relying on traditional farming practices and the habitats they create.
Farming practices have, however, intensified significantly since the 1950s and as a result, many farmland bird species have displayed worrying declines. Skylarks singing and dancing in the air, the distinctive pee-wit cry of the lapwing, once common on farms throughout the countryside are now rare. Changes to traditional farming practices, increased use of agro-chemicals and loss of semi-natural habitats has contributed to a loss of nesting and feeding sites.
Small changes in farming practices and agri-environmental management can, however, benefit a wide range of farmland birds and help to reverse declines. Farmland birds need:
- Access to invertebrate-rich habitats to feed their chicks during the breeding season.
- Seeds and berries to sustain populations throughout the winter.
- Safe places to nest and rear chicks.
These resources are collectively known as the big three for farmland birds. Few habitats offer all resources and therefore a diversity of habitats are usually required to sustain breeding populations.
|Impact on the breeding and foraging habitat of farmland birds
|Examples of bird species impacted
|Increased field sizes - (a)
|Loss of hedgerows and farm woodlands that provide shelter and nesting sites
|Increased field sizes - (b)
|Loss of floristically diverse field margins that provide insect-rich foraging habitats and a source of winter seed
|Change from hay to silage
|Cutting during the breeding season and increased frequency of cutting increases the risk of disturbing nests and offspring of ground nesting birds
|Winter sown cereals rather than spring sown cereals - (a)
|Loss of nesting sites
|Winter sown cereals rather than spring sown cereals (b)
|Loss of winter stubble providing weed seeds and spilt grain during the winter
|Increased insecticide and herbicide applications
|Declines in insects a vital source of food for many species during the breeding season. Loss of weed seeds.
|Loss of mixed farming systems and simplification of crops grown
|Birds that can move locally between nesting and feeding habitats fail to locate the required habitats in close proximity
|Fields drained to increase productivity
|Loss of wetland habitats rich in soil invertebrates
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