Original Paper

Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 1477-1492

First online:

Effects of agri-environment management for cirl buntings on other biodiversity

  • Michael A. MacDonaldAffiliated withRSPB, The LodgeRSPB Cymru Email author 
  • , Gail CobboldAffiliated withRSPB, The LodgeAdonis Ecology Limited
  • , Fiona MathewsAffiliated withHatherly Laboratories, University of Exeter
  • , Matthew J. H. DennyAffiliated withDenny Ecology
  • , Leila K. WalkerAffiliated withRSPB, The LodgeDepartment of Zoology, University of Cambridge
  • , Philip V. GriceAffiliated withNatural England
  • , Guy Q. A. AndersonAffiliated withRSPB, The Lodge

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Agri-environment scheme (AES) management has increased populations of cirl buntings (Emberiza cirlus) in South Devon, England, and might be expected to provide benefits for other declining biodiversity, due to less intensive farm management. Fields managed under AES for cirl buntings (low-input spring barley or permanent pasture without inputs) were contrasted with control fields under conventional management (spring barley without management restrictions and winter cereals, or grazed without management restrictions) to identify such benefits for vascular plants, butterflies, bumblebees, carabid beetles, foliar invertebrates and bats. Activity-density and species richness of carabid beetles were both higher in AES spring barley fields than in control spring barley and winter cereal fields. Forb cover and abundance of butterflies and bumblebees were higher in AES spring barley fields than in winter cereals, but did not differ between AES and control spring barley. No difference was observed in plant species richness between any of the arable field types. Plant species richness and butterfly abundance were higher in AES pasture fields than in controls. Abundance, activity-density and/or species richness of other taxa did not differ between AES and control pastures. Benefits observed in AES spring barley fields arise from management specific to AES agreements, and also, we suggest, from the maintenance of spring-sown barley in the landscape. Benefits in AES pasture fields are ascribed to the absence of fertiliser and pesticide inputs, and reductions in stocking arising from this; there is also likely to have been some pre-selection for older pastures to be entered into AES management agreements. Agri-environment measures for cirl buntings have benefits for a range of taxa beyond the target species, and therefore, largely through reduction of management intensity and maintenance of land-use diversity, improve the overall biodiversity of the farmed landscape where they are present.


Agri-environment scheme Bats Bumblebees Butterflies Carabid beetles Cirl bunting Plant species richness reduced input farming Spring barley