UK: Special farm wildlife scheme beats organic at boosting birds

A yellowhammer feeding on winter grains A yellowhammer feeding on winter grains

Tuesday, December 10, 2013
6:00 AM

Threatened farmland birds are likely to survive the winter better on conventional farms with specially designed wildlife habitats than on organic farms without according to a new study from the University of Southampton.

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Winter farmland bird populations compared across three different wildlife schemes showed the ‘Conservation Grade’ approach, that aims to grow crops efficiently while requiring farmers to establish and manage specific habitats for wildlife, produced higher survival rates than the organic sites.

The researcher, Dominic Harrison, said the greatest numbers of chaffinches, skylarks, yellowhammers and lapwings were recorded on Conservation Grade farms.

“A strong link was found between the number of specially-designed habitats created and the richness of bird species found,” he said.

“This indicates that the deciding factor is not the method of farming, as organic farms don’t provide significant benefits to overwintering birds. Instead, farm-scale management specifically designed to be beneficial to wildlife can have positive farm-scale effects.”

Darren Moorcroft, Head of Conservation Delivery at the RSPB agreed that the best results in sustaining farmland bird populations are to be gained from a targeted approach.

“There’s no doubt the more specific the approach, the better the results,” he said.

Brin Hughes of Conservation Grade said it was important for farmers to have clear biodiversity aims before they start.

“Organic production doesn’t specifically focus on achieving results in terms of biodiversity improvement,” he said. “We’ve designed Conservation Grade to deliver biodiversity ‘yields’ in the same way that farmers aim to optimise the yields of any crop.”