Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Effects of Environmental Stewardship on the distributions and populations of cirl buntings and other farmland birds in South Devon - BD5202

Large declines in UK farmland bird populations have become a major conservation issue and the UK Government is committed to reversing these declines by 2020 (Public Service Agreement H13). Agri-environment (AE) schemes are the main single policy delivery mechanism for farmland bird recovery in England and Wales. The recent introduction of Environmental Stewardship in England encompassed both broad and shallow (e.g. Entry Level Scheme) and higher tier (e.g. Higher Level Scheme) provision within a single scheme.

Whilst there is good evidence that the provision of suitable land management through AE schemes can maintain and enhance wild bird populations, there is still a lack of evidence concerning the amount of land that needs to be managed sympathetically and the combinations of AE options that need to be deployed at different spatial scales.

This study aims to address these key policy questions using long-term data already collected from South Devon, England. In this area cirl buntings have been the subject of detailed monitoring and conservation effort delivered since the mid-1990s through Defra's Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Previous studies have shown cirl bunting numbers to have increased rapidly in repsonse to targetted AE provision of key feeding habitats. Recent bird surveys covering a wider suite of farmland birds now offer an opportunity to investigate the influence of AE provision (and specific land management options therein) on have four species of high current conservation concern (cirl bunting, yellowhammer, skylark & song thrush).

The proposed analyses aim to determine the overall influence of recent AE provision on the abundance of these four priority bird species, and to identify particular AE options (or combinations of options) that have led to local increases in bird numbers. This information will have direct application to the refinement of AE deployment in Devon and other regions of the UK, and will therefore contribute to the delivery of the Government's PSA farmland bird target.
Detailed surveys of farmland birds and land management conducted in South Devon during 2003 and 2009 will be used to:

1. Assess the influence of agri-environment (CSS and ES) provision in South Devon on population changes of four red-listed farmland birds (cirl bunting, yellowhammer, skylark and song thrush);

2. Assess the influence of key farmland habitats on the fine-scale breeding distributions of farmland birds, attempting to distinguish the influence of habitats provided outwith and within agri-environment (AE) schemes;

3. Assess the influence of key farmland habitats (provided outwith and within AE schemes) on population changes of farmland birds;

4. Identify predictors of AE agreement performance for farmland birds.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : BD5202 Final Report   (595k)
• ANX - Annex : BD5202 Appendices for Final Report   (488k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2009

To: 2010

Cost: £32,927
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Royal Society for Protection of Birds
Environmental Protection              
Nature conservation              
Wildlife conservation