A new campaign has been launched to help tackle the continuing decline of many of Britain’s farmland birds.

Despite a number of conservation efforts being directed towards bird species such as skylarks and yellowhammers population levels have still not recovered to former levels and although some populations have stabilized others continue to decline.

In response, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the UK’s largest bird research charity, has today launched its Farmland Bird Appeal to find out why things are not improving.

BTO research has in the past identified declines, diagnosed causes and designed solutions to this conservation problem and the main policy response has been to instigate agri-environment schemes. These schemes, funded by the EU Common Agricultural Policy were set up to so farmers and land managers could support biodiversity, protect soil and water and enhance the landscape. Some of the scheme options were wholly or partly designed to provide resources for declining farmland birds.

However, the BTO has highlighted limitations in some of the schemes which has prompted modification in their design but populations are still yet to recover and some are for some species of birds things are getting worse.

Dr Gavin Siriwardena, Principal Ecologist at BTO, said, "Many of us thought we had solved the problem of farmland bird decline, but the latest evidence suggests more research is needed to find conservation solutions that really work. It is evident from our latest results that there is still much that we do not understand about how to reverse the declines, making our Farmland Bird Appeal all the more important. If we can secure the funding then we can address some key questions and offer the best advice for farmers to deliver biodiversity benefits."

Nearly two-thirds of land in the UK is agricultural and in order to maintain farmland bird communities there needs to be a greater understanding of how effective conservation efforts can deliver more favourable outcomes.

The BTO hopes to raise £100k from the to fund second generation research and answer a series of questions including some that look into the decline of the skylark. Skylark’s population fell by 63% between 1967 and 2012 placing it on the conservation Red List and BTO data shows that skylarks have been negatively affected by agri-environment schemes although the cause is yet unknown. One potential project would see BTO researches use GPS tracking devices to find out how skylarks use farmed landscapes so they can identify where problems are occurring.

Dr Siriwardena added, "Many farmers invest a lot of time and effort into protecting wildlife on their farms; we need to ensure that the available agri-environment scheme options work for birds and are also practical for the farmers who will implement them."

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