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Monday, 5 August 2013
Good news for Corn Buntings.
Corn buntings make a comeback thanks to farmers
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)
By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent7:00AM GMT 09 Feb 2011
Corn buntings are making a comeback, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), thanks to a few simple measures to improve the environment on farms.
The dumpy little brown birds were once a common sight in the countryside as they relied on corn fields to feed and nest.
The birds were all over the UK and nicknamed the Corn Blob in Yorkshire, the Docken sparrow in Shetland and the LBJ (Little Brown Job) by bird watchers.
But with the advent of intensive agriculture the population crashed and the birds were wiped out in parts of the west of England and Wales. Between 1970 and 2008 numbers dropped 89 per cent to around 10,000 today, according to the RSPB.
The loss of corn buntings was blamed on large-scale monoculture, that means field margins are ploughed up and the ground-nesting birds have nowhere to lay their eggs.
The buntings also suffer when pesticides wipe out weeds they rely on for insects and seeds in the summer. In the winter, the birds can starve if farmers plough the fields and cut the hedges as there are no seeds to feed on.
Other farmland birds that have suffered in recent decades include skylarks, grey partridges and yellowhammers.
However, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the loss can be reversed relatively easily.
A study of more than 70 farms over six years found that corn buntings increased in number by 5.6 per cent every year on properties where farmers took advice on improving wildlife habitat.
An absence of environmental schemes led to numbers of corn buntings declining by 14.5 per cent a year.
The relatively simple measures in ‘agri-environmental’ schemes include leaving stubble over the winter, rather than ploughing the fields so seeds are available. Also leaving margins around fields planted with wild flowers so the buntings have somewhere to feed and nest.
Farmers can be paid to introduce such measures as part of environmental subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Mark Avery, RSPB conservation director, said the study shows that if more money is made available to farmers to improve the environment as part of the up and coming reform of CAP, it will boost the numbers of farmland birds.
"Corn buntings are just one of a number of species which are disappearing from our countryside. We cannot allow this to continue," he said.
"Farmland bird numbers overall have halved since 1970. Imagine turning the volume of birdsong in today's farmland up twice as loud – that's what our countryside sounded like 40 years ago.
"This research proves just how vital it is that farmers receive proper funding and support if they are to help reverse these dramatic declines.
"We know what the problems are and we know how to solve them – now farmers, conservationists and government all need to work together to make it happen."
:: Farmers will be forced to take part in new environmental schemes unless more is done to help wildlife, Jim Paice, the farming minister has warned.
In the past land that was left fallow or 'set aside', as part of European subsidies, allowed wildlife to thrive.
However after the subsidy was scrapped, there was concern not enough land has been made available for farmland birds, insects and other wildlife.
The idea of the scheme was to avoid the compulsory reintroduction of set-aside, as this is unpopular with farmers.
A number of targets were introduced that will ensure enough land is left fallow for wildlife and farmers are also taking up the new system of European subsidies, 'agri-environment' schemes. to actively encourage wildlife back onto farms.
A survey has been sent out to 5,000 farmers, mostly cereal farmers with more than 10 hectares who can make the biggest impact, to find out if farmers will meet the targets.
In an open letter to the farming industry, Mr Paice warned that if the survey finds farmers are failing to boost wildlife then the Government will bring in compulsory measures.
"The CFE is the farming industry’s chance to demonstrate that this voluntary approach can work better than regulation and that they are best placed to decide on, and tackle, their local environmental priorities, without intervention. But if the farming community cannot step up and achieve these results voluntarily the Government will have to consider a compulsory approach to deliver these same benefits," he wrote.