Farmland birds set for revival?

FARMLAND birds which have been in decline for the past few decades may be on the verge of a revival in East Anglia and elsewhere in the UK, a conference has been told.

FARMLAND birds which have been in decline for the past few decades may be on the verge of a revival in East Anglia and elsewhere in the UK, a conference has been told.

New environmental schemes for farmers could pay dividends in reversing the decline of birds such as the skylark, more than 60 landowners and conservation officials heard.

The conference, at the Seckford Hall Hotel, near Woodbridge, was organised by the Suffolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) which is currently helping landowners to sign up to the new schemes.

About 80 per cent of the county's farmers are expected to sign up to the basic new environmental scheme while many others are set to join the higher “stewardship” scheme which offers higher payments and even more wildlife benefit.

The aim of the conference was to assess progress in Suffolk achieving its Biodiversity Action Plan targets - set in the late 1990s.

Speakers said good progress was being made, especially with the rarer species - including the otter, bittern and stone curlew.

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People now had a ten times greater chance of seeing an otter in Suffolk than they had five years ago.

However, although insufficient data was available, little progress appeared to have been made with some species of farmland birds - thought to be victims of the change to intensive agricultural practices.

The conference heard that a great deal of success was attributable to partnerships between individual landowners and the conservation bodies that gave advice.

Seventy percent of county wildlife sites, many of them privately owned, were now in good condition.

Derek Moore, former chairman of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, who chaired the conference, said farmers were so important to the country's wildlife because they managed so much of the countryside.

Mr Moore, a national FWAG trustee, added: “We need to make sure they do not become extinct by enabling them to farm profitably but in an environmentally friendly way.

“Nature reserves tend to be just oases for wildlife. They are not the same as having biodiversity in the countryside as a whole.”

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