A recent article by Patrick Barkham in The Guardian, 22 March 2018, featuring two studies in France, gives evidence of ‘catastrophic’ falls in farmland birds, such as skylarks, whitethroats and yellowhammers, and suggests that the decline could be Europe-wide.
Farmland makes up 45% of EU’s land area. Dr Benoit Fontaine of France’s National Museum of Natural History, and co-author of one of the studies, outlined the findings of a national survey of France’s common birds. A quarter of the population of skylarks has been lost in 15 years and a third of the total number of farmland bird species. Another study showed that 70% of meadow pipits have disappeared and 80% of partridges. The researchers believe that the declines have intensified over the last 10 years and think that the declines are related to a drastic reduction in insect life – a 76% fall in flying insects on German nature reserves over the last 27 years. Scientists believe that the falls are related to an increase in the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, to control insects.
Of 39 species commonly found on European farmland, 24 have declined and only six have increased. The species that have increased are those who also thrive in urban environments, such as chaffinches and blackbirds.
Populations have fared better in non-EU states in eastern Europe, where farming practices are less intensive. Martin Harper, director of RSPB in the UK said:
“In the UK the situation is just as concerning. Our beleaguered farmland birds have declined by 56% between 1970 and 2015, along with other wildlife linked to changes in agricultural practices, including the use of pesticides.”