The Demise of Europe’s Farmland Birds

Farmland BirdsMany of us as children and as adults have sat in fields and listened blissfully to the cacophony of birdsong emanating from the hedgerows and woods. Every now and then while trampling through the undergrowth, you would scare up a partridge from its hiding place or discover a nest filled with strangely coloured eggs.

Unfortunately, many of our children and indeed many adults may never get to experience the wonder of our feathered friends. Recent studies show that these and many other once-common birds are no longer as wide spread as they once were. The Guardian reports that populations have decreased as much as 90% in the case of the Grey Partridge, and the Linnet population is now down by 57% in the UK.

This decline is mostly due to intensive farming and urbanisation. One may ask how the decline of farmland birds can be caused by farming, but when you look at the modern farm ecosystem as a whole, it becomes more clear. Among other things, the overuse of pesticides and herbicides has caused a decline in the birds’ food sources by destroying the very foundation of their food chain. In addition, urbanisation and our ever-growing need to house the population has caused similar problems in their ecosystem.

These shocking statistics come from the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring scheme, which ran between 1980 and 2009.

Jenna Hegarty, policy officer at the RSPB, said: “We know farmland birds have halved in number in the UK since the 1970s, but these shocking figures show the story’s the same across Europe.
“This is no coincidence – the one thing that [Europe’s] farmed landscapes have in common is they are all shaped by the common agricultural policy [CAP]. This policy has helped farmers to produce more food, but wildlife has suffered.”

The RSPB have been campaigning for a reform of the CAP so that it is better equipped to reward farmers for good conservation practice. However, in these financially tight times, EU leaders have indicated that it is more likely that they will be cutting back on environmental payments and using the money for other areas. It is even likely that the money will be used to fund even more intensive farming.

The British government, however, has made it clear that they will be pushing for more emphasis on conservation in the EU as part of their biodiversity strategy.