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Farming Funds Could Transform Birds’ Fortune

A major research study on 70 farms over seven years has shown the vital importance of publicly-funded environmental measures to save threatened farmland birds. The study – published in the Journal of Applied Ecology – focuses on one of the UK’s most threatened farmland birds, the Corn Bunting. The once widespread species has crashed by almost 90 per cent since 1970 and is now a rare sight in our countryside.

The research has shown conclusively that targeted agri-environment schemes paying farmers to include measures for Corn Buntings on their land can make a real difference. Populations of the bird continued to decline rapidly on farms without agri-environment schemes, remained roughly stable in numbers on farms with basic schemes, and increased markedly on those with targeted measures and expert support.

RSPB conservation director Mark Avery said: “Corn Buntings are just one of a number of species which are disappearing from our countryside. We cannot allow this to continue.

“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.

“UK farmers receive £3.3billion a year through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but only a small part of this pays for agri-environment schemes. The upcoming reform of the CAP is a vital opportunity to ensure this money benefits both farming communities and threatened wildlife.”

Corn Buntings are suffering from a lack of places to feed and nest in our
countryside. They prefer nesting in growing crops and survive on a diet of insects
in summer, and grain and weed seeds in winter.

In South East England the RSPB and farmers are cooperating on projects to help save the remaining populations of Corn Bunting, particularly in the South Downs, North Wessex and North Kent. The conservation charity is working with farmers to help them access funding to provide vital habitats for this enigmatic songster.

RSPB’s south east regional farm conservation advisor, Bruce Fowkes, said: “Market
demand for low-cost agricultural produce puts farmers under great pressure to farm intensively. This is often at the expense of species like the Corn Bunting, Grey Partridge, Lapwing and many others.

“Agri-environment schemes are one of very few financial incentives available to
farmers who want to protect the wildlife on their farms. This study confirms the
importance of these schemes, but also shows us that success can depend greatly upon how the money is used.

“In the South East, some farmers have already entered these schemes and are taking targeted measures to provide what we call the ‘Big Three’ – summer food, winter food and nesting areas. Good options for this region include providing tussocky grass in open fields for birds to nest in, planting wild bird seed mixtures to provide winter food, and leaving strips of untreated cereal crops around fields, where insects can thrive in the summer.

“We’re starting to see signs of improvement, including large flocks of Corn Buntings in some areas. It’s really encouraging to have scientific evidence now to back up our belief that these efforts are having a positive impact. Now what we need is for more farmers to adopt targeted measures through agri-environment schemes.”

The study took place in between 2003 and 2009 in Eastern Scotland, where 85 per cent of Scotland’s corn buntings are found. Surveys were carried out on 71 arable and mixed lowland farms. Corn buntings increased 5.6 per cent per year on farms with target agri-environment measures, showed no significant change on farms with basic agri-environment measures and declined by 14.5 per cent per year where there were no agri-environment measures in place.

Farmers in the South East Region who would like to receive help from the RSPB to
access funding can contact Bruce Fowkes on 01273 763621 or at

For more information contact:
Christina MacFarquhar, RSPB media officer
Tel: 01273 763610
Mobile: 07801135472
Email: Christina.MacFarquhar@rspb.org.uk

There are a number of images available to download free of charge in support of this story. Click the link below and then enter the username and password when prompted.


Username: RSPB

Password: corn

The RSPB speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our
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‘The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity:
England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654

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