Numbers of breeding farmland birds have more than trebled in the 17 years since the RSPB started managing Hope Farm in 2000
Wildlife monitoring at the RSPB’s nature friendly demonstration farm in Cambridgeshire has revealed record numbers of breeding farmland birds and butterflies this summer.
Numbers of breeding farmland birds have more than trebled in the 17 years since the RSPB started managing Hope Farm in 2000, against a background decline in farmland bird species nationally.
Threatened ‘Red List’ farmland birds such as linnet and skylark, which nationally have declined by more than 50 percent, have increased more than threefold at Hope Farm, while numbers of yellowhammers have doubled.
Several species that were completely absent in 2000 have started breeding on farm, including grey partridge, lapwing and corn bunting.
Butterflies too are thriving at Hope Farm, with numbers of 24 species of the wider British countryside up 213% in 2017 compared with 2001.
Derek Gruar, a RSPB senior research assistant, has been responsible for monitoring breeding bird and butterfly numbers at Hope Farm since 2009.
He said: “Every summer we survey breeding farmland birds and butterflies on the farm to see how their numbers are changing.
"The increase in numbers in such a relatively short space of time is phenomenal when you consider the trends in these species nationally. The flip side of that of course is that something is clearly amiss in the wider landscape for these species to be declining in the UK.”
Reap the rewards
Hope Farm is not so different from a lot of other small arable farms in lowland England.
Just 10 percent of the croppable land on the 180 hectare farm is managed for wildlife, with the help of agri-environment schemes that support farmers to manage land to deliver environmental benefits. The other 90 percent grows commercial cereal crops such as wheat, barley and oilseed rape.
Simple measures like having wildflower margins around fields, sowing ‘bird cover’ to provide food for seed-eating birds, and allowing hedgerows to grow thick and dense to create safe nesting habitat all help birds, butterflies and other wildlife on the farm.
Ian Dillon, the RSPB manager at Hope Farm, said: “It’s fantastic getting the results of the wildlife monitoring on the farm, as they show that what we’re doing here is working. We have been able to demonstrate that, with the help of agri-environment schemes, it is possible for farmland wildlife to thrive alongside profitable crop production on an arable farm.
“The continuing decline in farmland bird numbers nationally though shows there is still more to do to make British farming sustainable for nature. Fortunately, we’re by no means alone in farming in a way that benefits wildlife, and if more farms keep adopting nature friendly practices, farmland wildlife will reap the rewards.”
Jack Alexander is a regular contributor to The Ecologist.