Above: The success of skylark plots in the UK has attracted attention across Europe, with BirdLife partner organisations in EU countries now pressing their own governments for skylark plots to be funded in their agri-environment schemes

 

AN INNOVATIVE HABITAT conservation measure that has been successful in the UK could be the solution to the severe decline of farmland birds in Sweden, according to a new study.

Over the past 40 years, skylarks in Europe have suffered a 50 per cent decline due to the intensification of agriculture. But in Sweden, this figure is even higher at 75 per cent.

Researchers Sönke Eggers and Jonas Josefsson from the department of ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science (SLU) in Uppsala, spent three years studying skylarks over three breeding seasons. Their report, which is supported by BirdLife Sweden, WWF and agricultural cooperative Lantmännen, describes how “skylark plots” create the variation in the landscape that is much needed by birds and could reverse the species’ decline.

Skylark plots are small patches of land in fields that are left undrilled when farmers are sowing overwintering cereal crops. This gives the birds a clear space to forage when the surrounding crops have become too dense for them.

The researchers found that the number of skylarks in fields with skylark plots increased by up to 60 per cent, due to more birds breeding and a higher survival rate for young. The study also revealed that larks from neighbouring fields are attracted to the plots.

Mr Eggers said: “If we are to be able to use arable land without species disappearing and functional ecosystems being affected, researchers, farmers and nature conservers have to work together.

“Skylark plots are a good example of a measure that is grounded in research and which also has worked practically. Farmers are key to biodiversity in the farmland.”

The arable landscape in the UK and Sweden differ slightly in terms of field size and the crops that are grown, and so the specifications for the plots had to be adapted. At Hope Farm in the UK, where the RSPB first introduced skylark plots, the number of skylark territories have increased from 10 in 2000 to 35 in 2017.

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