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Monitoring the effects of English agri-environment schemes on upland breeding birds using the Upland Breeding Bird Survey (UBBS) - LM0422

The English uplands are of international significance for their breeding birds. In recognition of this fact, over 140,000 ha of essentially upland habitats are designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the EU Birds Directive (the North and South Pennines, Bowland Fells and North York Moors SPAs). These are augmented by further blocks of habitat designated as SSSIs with ornithological interest features (eg Exmoor and Dartmoor). These designated areas largely comprise unenclosed habitats, such as moorland, but substantial bird populations also inhabit enclosed habitats in the uplands such as in-bye grasslands (eg in the Yorkshire Dales) and many of the birds which nest on the unenclosed land forage in the enclosed areas.

Species with internationally important populations in the English uplands include waders (such as golden plover and curlew), raptors (such as merlin and peregrine), gamebirds (such as red and black grouse) and songbirds (such as twite). Many upland birds are unique to upland habitats in an English context (eg ring ouzel), or are rare in or have been lost from lowland landscapes in recent decades (eg whinchat and wheatear). Upland habitats can also support widespread but declining birds at high breeding densities, such as skylark and meadow pipit.

Agri-environment schemes (AES) have been the major mechanism for encouraging environmentally sympathetic land management in the uplands since the introduction of Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) in the late 1980s. Areas outside the ESAs were also targeted under the Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme from the early 1990s. Both these schemes had a range of options that were directly or indirectly targeted on upland breeding birds. This focus on upland breeding birds has been carried through into Environmental Stewardship (ES) which also has a range of options that are likely to benefit upland breeding birds, including within the recently introduced Upland Entry Level Stewardship scheme (see Appendix 1). The annual outlay for these options combined, not including those within ‘live’ ESA and CS agreements, runs into tens of millions of pounds. Despite this, there has been no rigorous assessment of the benefits or otherwise of AES on upland birds (cf lowland farmland birds). It is therefore essential that we evaluate the effectiveness of this large public investment by considering the effects and impacts of AES on upland breeding birds.
The main aim of the project is to assess the effects and impacts of AES on key bird species breeding in the English uplands, especially in relation to AES agreements and individual or groups of key AES options likely to influence upland breeding birds. In addition, the data collected by the project will enable the production of more precise population trends for a wide range of upland specialist and non-specialist bird species in England.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : LM0422 Final report   (692k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2012

To: 2014

Cost: £239,994
Contractor / Funded Organisations
British Trust For Ornithology (BTO)
Environmental Stewardship