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Effects of agri-environmental habitat provision on winter and breeding season abundance of farmland birds

Redhead, J.W.; Hinsley, S.A.; Beckmann, B.C.; Broughton, R.K.; Pywell, R.F.. 2018 Effects of agri-environmental habitat provision on winter and breeding season abundance of farmland birds. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 251. 114-123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2017.09.027

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Abstract/Summary

Farmland bird populations continue to show declines in spite of over 20 years of research and implementation of agri-environmental schemes (AES) intended to reverse this. Although it is well known that provision of winter food resources can attract farmland birds, there is continuing uncertainty over the ability of AES to provide tangible benefits for target species in terms of increased abundance. Answering these questions is hampered by interannual fluctuations in bird populations and the mobility and territoriality of farmland birds, which have complicated the interpretation of previous studies. We monitored birds for five years on a large arable estate in central England managed under varying levels of AES uptake (low level uptake of simple and widely applicable AES options, more extensive uptake of more complex AES options), and two control treatments (on-site and off-site). Bird abundance in winter and both total abundance and number of territories in the breeding season were calculated from monthly visits to 16 transects. Several species showed significantly higher winter abundance on AES treatments, particularly granivorous species (e.g. reed bunting, yellowhammer, linnet). Many other species (e.g. blackbird, chaffinch, robin) also showed significant differences in winter abundance between treatments on the estate and off-site controls. In the breeding season, linnet, reed bunting, goldfinch and combined granivorous birds showed higher abundance or number of territories on AES treatments compared to on-site controls. For most other species the differences were only significant between treatments on the estate and off-site controls. Independently of AES treatment, a lower coverage of cereals or greater Shannon diversity of crops in the local landscape also had a positive effect on the abundance of many species. Our results suggest that well-implemented AES can significantly enhance local populations of both farmland specialists of conservation concern and generalist species. Our results also show that, in many cases, these effects were only demonstrable at the farm scale, in comparison with off-site controls. This is probably due to high levels of movement and dispersal of birds resulting in a farm-scale spill-over of beneficial effects of agri-environment measures. Our results therefore highlight the importance of thinking beyond the single-farm scale when designing schemes or studies for monitoring the effectiveness of AES, and the importance of selecting appropriately located controls.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2017.09.027
CEH Sections/Science Areas: Biodiversity (Science Area 2017-)
CEH Fellows
ISSN: 0167-8809
Additional Keywords: agri-environment, farmland birds, population, landscape, arable, supplementary feeding
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Agriculture and Soil Science
Date made live: 13 Dec 2017 12:21 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/518690

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