Farmers ‘don’t accept evidence of decline in farmland birds’ - survey

FARMERS want to help wildlife - but don’t accept evidence of a decline in farmland bird numbers, two polls have found.

The vast majority believe that wildlife conservation is an integral part of their farming system according to two surveys conducted by The Voluntary Initiative (VI).

The studies found that 86% of farmers agree that environmental management and wildlife conservation are important parts of their farm management.

However, farmers appear not to accept the evidence of farmland bird declines from national surveys. Only 10% of farmers interviewed believe farmland birds, such as lapwings and skylarks, have declined in their area, whereas 52% thought they had increased. Similar results were found for populations of butterflies and bumblebees.

Roughly half of the farmers who thought that farmland birds had declined accepted that it was because of changes in farming practice. The others thought that declines were due to predation, disturbance or loss of farmland to development.

Richard Winspear, RSPB agricultural adviser and chairman of the VI biodiversity group, said: “The surveys show that farmers really do want to do their bit for wildlife but they do not always notice the declines or the reasons for the declines. Clearly we need to explain this better.

“The results of this survey provide a focus for the VI and other initiatives, like the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, to help farmers and advisers understand what they can do to increase populations of wild birds and other wildlife indicators.”

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Benefiting the environment was the main reason for entering an agri-environment scheme agreement, according to 50% of the farmers in an agreement, compared with 37% who said money and eight per cent who wanted to make the best use of unproductive land.

The sponsors of The Voluntary Initiative are the Agricultural Engineers Association, Agricultural Industries Confederation, Country Land and Business Association, Crop Protection Association, National Association of Agricultural Contractors, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers Union. To date over �99million has been invested in the scheme by the agricultural industry.