A new study by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) investigating the benefits of supplementary feeding during the leanest months of winter concludes that paying farmers to feed their starving farmland birds could be a necessity in the future.

Latest government figures show that the populations of birds such as grey partridges and yellowhammers are still showing a 70% decline, despite the introduction of schemes which pay farmers to put in a range of wildlife-friendly measures on their farms.

The GWCT believes a lack of late-winter and earlyspring food may be to blame. The GWCT’s farmland biodiversity advisor, Peter Thompson, said: ?We believe that it is vital for the recovery of farmland birds that supplementary feeding, either through pheasant hoppers or spreading grain on the ground, is included as an option under Stewardship Schemes, and the Government is largely in agreement.?

Together with Co-operative Farms, the GWCT has designed a range of trials on a number of farms across the country, including the GWCT’s Allerton Project research farm at Loddington in Leicestershire.

Mr Thompson added: ?We need to reassure the Government that the food is not being wasted on common species such as rats or crows. We also need to identify the type of seed that should be provided in hoppers, and the amount that needs to be supplied to have the desired result.?

Meanwhile, a survey by the Voluntary Initiative, a Government programme that promotes responsible pesticide use, has found that 86% of farmers agree that wildlife conservation is an important part of their farm management, but only 10% believe farmland birds have declined in their area.