Natural England
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Bird-friendly farming methods soar to new heights

• Feeding and nesting habitat hits the 150,000 hectare mark for the first time
• New CD celebrates unique songs of farmland birds

More fields than ever before are being managed to halt the decline in farmland bird populations, new figures from Natural England show.

Over 152,000 hectares (375,000 acres) of arable farmland are now providing vital winter food and habitat through farmers adopting bird-friendly measures as part of their Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreements. In the last financial year (2010/11) alone, more than 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of farmland bird options were added by farmers within Higher Level Stewardship schemes.

The increase follows extensive work by Natural England, the RSPB and farmers to focus more ES agreements on creating the right sort of conditions for farmland birds. By growing seeds, insect-rich foraging habitat and nesting plots, farmers are throwing a lifeline to species such as the lapwing and grey partridge whose populations have plummeted over the last 40 years.

James Phillips, a senior wildlife adviser with Natural England, said: “The decline of many farmland birds over the past 40 years has been an environmental tragedy. These heartening new figures show that farmers are taking significant steps to reverse that decline and restore the fortunes of some of our best-loved birds.

“But for this work to truly bear fruit, we need to carry on introducing bird-friendly farming options right across the country. The more land that’s managed in this way, the more birds it will sustain.”

Darren Moorcroft, RSPB head of countryside conservation, said: “These figures show what can be done with the right options in place, informed support and advice, and farmers who really care about our countryside.

“At this time of the year, parent birds face the challenge of finding enough food to feed their hungry chicks. The habitats being created on these farms will ensure there is a new generation of healthy birds singing from our fields and hedgerows. We hope the commitment of these farmers will inspire others to step up for nature on their land. It's good business and good for our natural environment. ”

Richard Benyon, Natural Environment and Marine Minister, said: “It’s encouraging to see the growing interest and enthusiasm of farmers who are taking action to protect birds and habitats.

“Nearly 57,000 farmers in England have signed up for agri-environment schemes, with many managing their land to provide havens for birds. Thanks to farmers in Devon signing up to our schemes, the cirl bunting has been rescued from the threat of extinction and there are now seven times as many as there were in 1989.

“We’re making schemes more effective and better targeted so that farmers can continue to deliver the greatest possible benefits for wildlife and the natural environment.”

The result is that in areas of concerted conservation activity, bird populations are on their way up – bucking the trend of the last 40 years which has seen overall farmland bird numbers plummet by 52 per cent. The rare farmland bird, the cirl bunting has increased to 862 pairs in 2009, a 25 per cent increase since 2003, which is largely down to farmers in south Devon adopting appropriate agri-environment scheme options. A similar approach is being taken by the South West Farmland Bird Initiative, set up three years ago to help restore the fortunes of species like the corn bunting. A number of the birds are already responding positively to ES measures, breeding in nesting habitat on farms where they have never bred before.

This shows what can be done when the right options are put in place in the rights areas, at the right scale. The challenge now is to put in bird–friendly options at sufficient scale right across England, so that the declines in more widespread farmland birds are reversed.

The effort to restore the fortunes of farmland birds is being reinforced by the launch of a new compilation CD of their songs, titled “The Best Farmland Bird Album in the World Ever, Volume 1!” The 52 ‘vocalists’ featured on the album are those species most likely to be heard on farmland, including the 10 ‘most wanted’ arable species - rapidly declining birds that are a focus of ES.

The CD has been produced by the South West Farmland Bird Initiative (SWFBI), Natural England and the RSPB, with support from the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) and others. It is aimed at helping farmers, land management advisers and the public learn the calls of birds which may be heard when working on the farm or walking in the countryside. Among them are the skylark’s uplifting song, which has enchanted generations, notably the Romantic poets Shelley and Wordsworth. The CD also features the distinctive ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ call of the yellowhammer. Other songs showcased include the deep purring sound of the turtle dove, the ‘jangling keys’ song of the corn bunting, the ‘peewit’ of the lapwing and the quail’s strange ‘wet my lips’ call, sometimes heard from meadows and open, arable fields on still, warm summer evenings.

James Phillips concluded: “The CD offers farmers and the public alike a great snapshot of the evocative sounds and songs that have accompanied rural life in Britain for thousands of years. Thanks to the growing numbers of farmers choosing bird-friendly farming methods we will hopefully continue to hear these wonderful birds singing across our countryside in years to come. I can’t think of a greater incentive to keep up the good work.”

Copies of “The Best Farmland Bird Album in the World Ever, Volume 1!” will be available free of charge from Natural England stalls at agricultural shows during the summer, starting with Cereals in Lincolnshire next week on 15-16 June.

For further information about Environmental Stewardship, including how to join and how to choose the best options for farmland birds, visit or contact your local Natural England adviser.



For further information (media only), including copies of the CD and photos of farmland birds, contact: Graham Tibbetts in the National Press Office on 0300 060 2617, or out of hours 07810 636344.  For further information about Natural England please visit: .

Environmental Stewardship
Environmental Stewardship (ES), comprising Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), pays farmers and land managers to protect habitats and species, care for the landscape and historic buildings within it and encourage visits to learn about the countryside.

The scheme is operated by Natural England on behalf of Defra and has been tailored to suit the changing times; it now offers incentives for the protection of natural resources such as fresh water and the adaptation of the rural environment to cope with the effects of climate change.

Agri-environment schemes like ES are the biggest tool for reversing the decline of farmland birds by encouraging farmers to create essential nesting and feeding habitat for birds to thrive throughout the year. For more information go to .

South West Farmland Bird Initiative
This Natural England-led partnership initiative has been set up to help reverse the decline of farmland birds across Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset, areas which are recognised as being of national importance for farmland birds.

The project concentrates on six bird species, the ‘Arable 6’, and hotspots for arable plants. The ‘Arable 6’ are grey partridge, lapwing, turtle dove, yellow wagtail, tree sparrow and corn bunting. These are all farmland specialists and have undergone the most severe declines. Providing habitat for these birds will also have major benefits for other farmland species like the skylark, yellowhammer and brown hare, and in many cases also provide conditions that will help rare arable plants.

Through the use of agri-environment schemes or independently, land managers are encouraged to adopt measures that provide nesting habitat, summer and winter food for farmland birds. For more information on the SWFBI go to .

About Natural England
Natural England is the government’s independent adviser on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
- We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
- We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.
- We run Environmental Stewardship and other green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
- We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.
- We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

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