DEFRA’s farmland bird population index for England had decreased five per cent between 2008 and 2009 to its lowest recorded value — 53 per cent lower than its 1966 starting value, the organisation revealed last Thursday, 29 July.

Twelve of the 19 species monitored declined between 2008 and 2009. According to the index, these were kestrel, lapwing, grey partridge, skylark, starling, greenfinch, tree sparrow, yellow wagtail, linnet, corn bunting, rook and even woodpigeon. DEFRA stated that the decline between 2008 and 2009 is a continuation of downward trends evident over at least the past four or five years.

The RSPB highlighted that threatened cuts to stewardship measures, such as the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, could put farmland birds at even greater risk. Dr Mark Avery, director of conservation at the RSPB, said: “It’s difficult to draw conclusions from one year, but this makes for depressing reading. The winter before last was a moderately cold one that could have impacted on birds’ ability to find food. We may also be seeing the knock-on effect of set-aside being abolished, removing valuable foraging and nesting habitats for wild birds.”

He added: “Lapwings, known to some as the ‘farmer’s friend’, are particularly vulnerable and populations have been steadily falling for more than 30 years, so a decline of 12 per cent in one year across England [according to the index] is really bad news. Those farmers who are helping to save this beautiful bird through the Higher Level Stewardship are achieving some great results. To cut this important scheme now could be disastrous.”

The rest of this article appears in 4th August issue of Shooting Times.

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