Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 148, Supplement 2, pp 279–286 | Cite as

An example of a two-tiered agri-environment scheme designed to deliver effectively the ecological requirements of both localised and widespread bird species in England

  • A. D. EvansEmail author
  • R. E. Green
Original Article


Intensification of agricultural practices over the last 50 years has resulted in the impoverishment of the wildlife associated with lowland farmland across much of Western Europe. This is perhaps best documented in birds. In England, populations of 15 species associated with lowland farmland have fallen by between 50% and 100%. Several species have become rare and localised. Others, formerly abundant and ubiquitous, remain relatively common and widespread, but nonetheless in need of conservation action. Agri-environment schemes are widely held as a solution to this generic problem, but the track record of many prototype schemes in delivering biodiversity is far from good. The efficacy of any scheme in recovering the population of a given species will depend upon deployment of effective prescriptive management at the right time and in the right place. We argue that a two-tiered approach is required in the design of any scheme, to cope with the requirements of both localised and widespread species. We illustrate this by using case studies of two ground-nesting bird species, Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus and Skylark Alauda arvensis, whose populations have declined for similar reasons, but for which the prescriptive management solutions and the means of their deployment differ radically.


Ground-nesting birds Lowland farmland Skylark Stone-curlew Recovery 



We would like to thank Tony Morris and Nick Adams for providing data. RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England) have been long-term partners and co-funders of the Stone-curlew recovery project. Much of the Skylark data has been collected as part of the Sustainable Arable LINK project LK0926—Sustainable Arable Farming For an Improved Environment (SAFFIE). We thank Tony Morris and Richard Bradbury for their constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


  1. Aebischer NJ, Green RE, Evans AD (2000) From science to recovery: four cases of how research has been translated into conservation action in the UK. In: Aebischer NJ, Evans AD, Grice PV, Vickery JA (eds) Ecology and conservation of lowland farmland birds. British Ornithologist’s Union, Tring, pp 43–56Google Scholar
  2. Baker H, Stroud DA, Aebischer NJ, Cranswick PA, Gregory RD, McSorley CA, Noble DG, Rehfisch MM (2006) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Br Birds 99:25–44Google Scholar
  3. Bradbury RB, Browne SJ, Stevens DK, Aebischer NJ (2004) Five-year evaluation of the impact of the pilot Arable Stewardship scheme on birds. Ibis 146(Suppl 2):171–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Buckwell A, Armstrong-Brown S (2004) Changes in farming and future prospects. Ibis 146(Suppl 2):14–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Butler SJ, Vickery JA, Norris K (2007) Farmland biodiversity and the footprint of agriculture. Science 315:381–384PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chamberlain DE, Fuller RJ, Bunce RGH, Duckworth JC, Shrubb M (2000) Changes in the abundance of farmland birds in relation to the timing of agricultural intensification in England and Wales. J Appl Ecol 37:771–788CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. DEFRA (2005a) Entry level stewardship handbook,
  8. DEFRA (2005b) Higher level stewardship handbook,
  9. Donald PF (2004) The Skylark. Poyser, LondonGoogle Scholar
  10. Donald PF, Morris AJ (2005) Saving the Sky Lark: new solutions for a declining farmland bird. Br Birds 98:570–579Google Scholar
  11. Donald PF, Evans AD, Buckingham DL, Muirhead LB, Wilson JD (2001) Factors affecting the distribution of skylarks Alauda arvensis breeding on lowland farmland. Bird Study 48:271–278Google Scholar
  12. Donald PF, Evans AD, Muirhead LB, Buckingham DL, Kirby WB, Schmitt SIA (2002) Survival rates, causes of failure and productivity of Skylark Alauda arvensis nests on lowland farmland. Ibis 144:652–664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Evans AD, Armstrong-Brown S, Grice PV (2002) The role of research and development in the evolution of a ‘smart’ agri-environment scheme. Aspects Appl Biol 67:253–264Google Scholar
  14. Evans AD, Vickery J, Shrubb M (2004) Importance of over-wintered stubble for farmland bird recovery: a reply to Potts. Bird Study 51:94–96Google Scholar
  15. Gibbons DW, Reid JB, Chapman RA (1993) The new atlas of breeding birds of Britain and Ireland: 1988–1991. Poyser, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Gillings S, Newson SE, Noble DG, Vickery JA (2005) Winter availability of cereal stubbles attracts declining farmland birds and positively influences breeding population trends. Proc R Soc Lond B 272:733–739CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Green RE (1978) Factors affecting the diet of farmland skylarks Alauda arvensis. J Anim Ecol 47:913–928CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Green RE (1988) Stone-curlew conservation. RSPB Conserv Rev 2:30–33Google Scholar
  19. Green RE, Griffiths GH (1994) Use of preferred nesting habitat by Stone-curlews Burhinus oedicnemus in relation to vegetation structure. J Zool 233:457–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Green RE, Tyler GA, Bowden CGR (2000) Habitat selection, ranging behaviour and diet of the stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) in southern England. J Zool 250:161–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gregory RD, Wilkinson NI, Noble DG, Robinson JA, Brown AF, Hughes J, Procter DA, Gibbons DW, Galbraith CA (2002) The population status of birds in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man: an analysis of conservation concern 2002–2007. Br Birds 95:410–450Google Scholar
  22. Gregory RD, Noble DG, Custance J (2004) The state of play of farmland birds; population trends and conservation status of lowland farmland birds in the United Kingdom. Ibis 146(Suppl 2):1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Grice P, Evans A, Osmond J, Brand-Hardy R (2004) Science into policy: the role of research in the development of a recovery plan for farmland birds in England. Ibis 146(Suppl 2):239–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jeffs C, Evans A (2004) Cirl buntings: the road to recovery. Biologist 51:1–5Google Scholar
  25. Kleijn D, Sutherland WJ (2003) How effective are European agri-environment schemes in conserving and promoting biodiversity? J Appl Ecol 40:947–969CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Morris AJ, Holland JM, Smith B, Jones NE (2004) Sustainable Arable Farming For an Improved Environment (SAFFIE): managing winter wheat sward structure for Skylarks Alauda arvensis. Ibis 146(Suppl 2):155–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Newton I (2004) The recent declines of farmland bird populations in Britain: an appraisal of causal factors and conservation actions. Ibis 146:579–600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Odderskaer P, Prang A, Poulsen JG, Andersen PN, Elmegaard N (1997) Skylark Alauda arvensis utilisation of micro-habitats in spring barley fields. Agric Ecosyst Environ 62:21–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Potts GR (1986) The partridge. Pesticides, predation and conservation. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  30. Robinson RA, Wilson JD, Crick HQP (2001) The importance of arable habitat for farmland birds in grassland habitats. J Appl Ecol 38:1059–1069CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schläpfer A (1988) Populationsökologie der Feldlerche Alauda arvensis in der intensive genutzten Agrarlandschaft. Ornithol Beob 85:309–371Google Scholar
  32. Shrubb M (2003) Birds, scythes and combines. A history of birds and agricultural change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  33. Smallshire D, Robertson P, Thompson P (2004) Policy into practice: the development and delivery of agri-environment schemes and supporting advice in England. Ibis 146(Suppl 2):250–258Google Scholar
  34. Stevens DK, Bradbury RB (2006) Effects of the Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme on breeding birds at field and farm scales. Agric Ecosyst Environ 112:283–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Vickery JA, Evans AD, Grice PV, Aebischer NJ, Brand-Hardy R (eds) (2004a) Ecology and conservation of lowland farmland birds II: the road to recovery. Ibis 146 (Suppl 2)Google Scholar
  36. Vickery JA, Bradbury RB, Henderson IG, Eaton MA, Grice PV (2004b) The role of agri-environment schemes and farm management practices in reversing the decline of farmland birds in England. Biol Conserv 119:19–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RSPB, The LodgeBedfordshireUK
  2. 2.Conservation Science Group, Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations