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Farmers could get paid to feed declining birds
12:23pm Wednesday 22nd February 2012 in Farming news
A NEW study which is investigating the benefits of supplementary feeding during the leanest months of winter could mean that farmers will be paid to feed their starving farmland birds in future.
The study is being undertaken by research charity, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) in collaboration with Cooperative Farms, part of The Cooperative Group.
The latest government figures show that some farmland bird populations such as grey partridge, tree sparrow, yellowhammer, reed bunting and corn bunting are still showing a 70 per cent decline despite the introduction of agri-environment schemes, which pay farmers to put in a range of wildlifefriendly measures on their farms.
However, it is now well established that a lack of late winter and early spring food, may well play an important role in the survival of these species as well as affecting their breeding success later in the season.
Peter Thompson, farmland biodiversity advisor with the GWCT, said: “We believe that it is vital for the recovery of farmland birds that supplementary feeding either through pheasant hoppers or spreading grain on the ground is included as an option under stewardship schemes and the Government is largely in agreement.
However, before this happens they want us to clarify a number of points in order to maximise the success of this option.”
Together with The Co-operative Farms, the GWCT has designed a range of feeding trials, which will involve three different Co-operative farms, as well as other farms across the country, including the GWCT’s Allerton Project research farm in Leicestershire.
The GWCT’s previous research on its Allerton Project farm showed that farmland bird numbers were two and a half times higher in years when additional grain was provided through pheasant feed hoppers than years without. An important aspect of the trial is to develop ways of ensuring that non-target species, such as pigeons, crows, pheasants and squirrels do not benefit from this supplementary food.
Mr Thompson said: “Before supplementary feeding is included as an option in environmental schemes, we need to reassure the Government that the food is not being wasted on common species such as rats or crows. We also need to identify the type of seed that should be provided in hoppers and the amount that needs to be supplied to have the desired result.”
The Co-operative Farms is assisting the trial at its farms in Goole in East Yorkshire, Down Ampney in Gloucestershire and Ashby St Ledgers in Warwickshire.
David Watson, head of arable operations at The Co-operative Farms, said: “The Co-operative is committed to farming in a sustainable way that cares for the environment, protecting local wildlife and raising awareness about food.
“By supporting this trial our farmers can help throw a lifeline to farmland birds during these harsh winter months by providing feeders with wheat, or a mixture of wheat and oil seed rape, which could help many of these birds survive the winter.”
Mr Thompson added: “Time is running out for many farmland birds and we need action right now.
We believe this study will help and that farmers will get the support and advice they need to put this measure in place. Farmland birds will then have a much better chance of survival during the leanest months of the winter.”