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View Full Version : Study offers winter lifeline for struggling farmland birds (RSPB)


BF Newsroom
Monday 1st August 2011, 16:10
Conservationists have come up with a solution to the 'hungry gap' - the annual problem of farmland birds struggling for survival in late winter and early spring.

Read More... (http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/285990-study-offers-winter-lifeline-for-struggling-farmland-birds?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=News)

CPBell
Tuesday 2nd August 2011, 10:36
Conservationists have come up with a solution to the 'hungry gap' - the annual problem of farmland birds struggling for survival in late winter and early spring.

"Conservationists have come up with a solution to the ‘hungry gap’ – the annual problem of farmland birds struggling for survival in late winter and early spring."

"RSPB conservation scientist David Buckingham said: “We carried out trials on 12 farms in the West Midlands and found that when small patches of ryegrass around the edge of fields was left to go to seed we managed to attract high numbers of birds."

“Farmland bird numbers have declined by half since 1970 and we want to work with the many farmers out there who are doing their bit to reverse this trend. Ryegrass is grown for grazing and silage across the UK so this is a simple, effective measure that can be put in place on any dairy or mixed farm to help struggling farmland birds."

Masterful propaganda. The ‘hungry gap’ is an idea dreamt up to explain away the fact that 15 years of agri-environment schemes have failed to reverse declines in farmland birds. It’s presented here as fact, but it’s a hypothesis at best. Making seed available will inevitably attract birds to an area, but this doesn’t mean that background food availability is limiting, since foraging theory shows us that birds will accumulate in patches with the greatest marginal gain rate. Even if greater food availability did lead to population recovery it wouldn’t prove that that food shortage caused the decline.

The RSPB is relentless in its efforts to establish a narrative that extends its power and influence, regardless of whether there is any reliable science to back it up, or whether it really serves the interests of wildlife. Once achieved, the narrative enables the RSPB to demonize farmers (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/04/mark-avery-politicians-farmers-rspb) who fail to co-operate with their utopian designs.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

Alan Tilmouth
Tuesday 2nd August 2011, 14:10
In terms of propaganda you appear to have found a niche when it comes to anti-RSPB rhetoric. I fail to see why this suggestion could be considered a bad thing and how if included within Environmental Stewardship Schemes it would 'increase the RSPB's power and influence' other than ensuring the knoll they are conspiring dominance from is a slightly more grassy one than current.

Food such as seed declines as winter progresses, the provision of additional food if it helps secure the survival of some individuals that would otherwise have perished must surely be positive in the face of recent declines?

There is nothing in the RSPB press release that suggests they are trying to prove any theory regarding the decline in Farmland Birds, simply trying to create something positive to counter what they see as a factor.

As far as 'demonising' is concerned MA's comments in the linked article seemed to be particularly aimed at the NFU who do appear (to me) to have been fairly negative, slow and unresponsive to environmental concerns and proposals at times when compared to other farming organisations such as the CLA.

Look on the bright side, at least there'll be a little more food for the Sparrowhawks and somebody like Songbird Survival might commission more research from you so they can perpetuate the myth they need to be controlled.

CPBell
Tuesday 2nd August 2011, 23:26
In terms of propaganda you appear to have found a niche when it comes to anti-RSPB rhetoric.

My evaluations tend to be specific rather than rhetorical, but I agree that the niche you refer to is largely vacant. For a big business operation with a £100m turnover the RSPB do get a bit of a free ride when it comes to criticism, especially considering the catastrophic declines in bird populations that have happened on their watch. Then again, nothing succeeds like failure – just ask the bankers.

Regarding commissions, I would be happy simply to get access to the data I need to pursue my curiosity using my own time and resources, as with all the studies I’ve done over the last 15 years, but research that’s potentially ‘off-message’ isn’t allowed. Good luck with the tour company though. Hopefully there’ll be some cheap advertising space for you in Birds magazine if you keep pushing the line.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

Alan Tilmouth
Saturday 6th August 2011, 12:08
My evaluations tend to be specific rather than rhetorical, but I agree that the niche you refer to is largely vacant. For a big business operation with a £100m turnover the RSPB do get a bit of a free ride when it comes to criticism, especially considering the catastrophic declines in bird populations that have happened on their watch. Then again, nothing succeeds like failure – just ask the bankers.

Regarding commissions, I would be happy simply to get access to the data I need to pursue my curiosity using my own time and resources, as with all the studies I’ve done over the last 15 years, but research that’s potentially ‘off-message’ isn’t allowed. Good luck with the tour company though. Hopefully there’ll be some cheap advertising space for you in Birds magazine if you keep pushing the line.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

'A free ride when it comes to criticism' - you have to be joking right? Whether it is the Countryside Alliance, Songbird Survival, NFU, Game & Conservancy Trust or anti-RSPB columns in the Telegraph and shooting magazines they have a whole range of individuals and organisations lined up to criticise them on a regular basis.
What binds most of these together is they all have an agenda in relation to their business operations/interests. What has interested me from your emergence and subsequent attacks on the BTO/RSPB is understanding what your agenda is, something that is still unclear.

ZanderII
Saturday 6th August 2011, 13:57
For a big business operation with a £100m turnover the RSPB do get a bit of a free ride when it comes to criticism, especially considering the catastrophic declines in bird populations that have happened on their watch. Then again, nothing succeeds like failure – just ask the bankers.

Nice one.

So what, we accuse all NGOs of failing us in this biodiversity crisis? I think we need more evaluation of conservation actions but statements such as the above are massively counter-productive and demonstrably untrue.

How are you measuring failure when you have no control group (a UK without RSPB intervention)?

The RSPB have many conservation successes to speak of, typically involving rare species which benefit from specefic habitat management - the sort of thing you can only do when you have the land to manage.


z

halftwo
Saturday 6th August 2011, 15:57
since foraging theory shows us that birds will accumulate in patches with the greatest marginal gain rate[/b]. Even if greater food availability did lead to population recovery it wouldn’t prove that that food shortage caused the decline.
http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

Could you explain the first term (in bold) above, please - it's been a while since I studied birds for a Uni. dissertation?!

The second sentence, whilst true, doesn't allow much credence; though there is no proof it goes some way to point to a possible cause, no? A hypothesis, as you say, but a good start.

CPBell
Saturday 6th August 2011, 19:34
'A free ride when it comes to criticism' - you have to be joking right? Whether it is the Countryside Alliance, Songbird Survival, NFU, Game & Conservancy Trust or anti-RSPB columns in the Telegraph and shooting magazines they have a whole range of individuals and organisations lined up to criticise them on a regular basis.
What binds most of these together is they all have an agenda in relation to their business operations/interests. What has interested me from your emergence and subsequent attacks on the BTO/RSPB is understanding what your agenda is, something that is still unclear.

It’s not surprising that the RSPB should receive criticism from its competitors, but there is precious little from elsewhere. This is a tribute to their success in establishing themselves as custodians of virtue, but also to their political clout, especially with respect to the direction taken by ecological science. There are plenty of professional ornithologists who are scathing in private about the RSPB, but few would dare to go public.

Regarding my own motivation, your puzzlement will continue for however long you persist with the assumption that I have an ‘agenda’. I’m interested in finding out the truth, whatever that happens to be. The RSPB and BTO lose no opportunity to strew obstacles in my path, which makes me think they are afraid of what this might turn out to be.

How are you measuring failure when you have no control group (a UK without RSPB intervention)?

The RSPB have many conservation successes to speak of, typically involving rare species which benefit from specefic habitat management - the sort of thing you can only do when you have the land to manage.

If decline by a half of birds on farmland and by a third in woodland doesn’t constitute evidence of failure, I find it difficult to imagine what would. I grant the RSPB’s success in preserving small and for the most part globally irrelevant populations of species on the edge of their breeding ranges in the British Isles. It makes good commercial sense through serving the public’s interest in novelty, but let’s not pretend it amounts to a hill of beans in the scheme of things.

Could you explain the first term (in bold) above, please - it's been a while since I studied birds for a Uni. dissertation?!

There are various ways of approaching this. Marginal value theorem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marginal_value_theorem) states that a forager should leave a patch when intake rate falls to the average. A patch with high food availability will be depleted more slowly, so foragers should stay there for a longer period. Alternatively, ideal free theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideal_free_distribution) states that foragers should distribute themselves across the landscape so as to equalise their intake rate, which declines as forager density increases. Patches with high food availability will provide a higher intake rate for a given density, and so should support higher forager density than patches with lower food availability.

The important thing to bear in mind in both cases is that the rules still hold when poorer quality patches provide a more than adequate food supply, so aggregation of foragers in food rich patches doesn’t mean that they would suffer any detriment if those patches were removed. However studies showing that birds are attracted to improved habitat is constantly spun as evidence for general food shortage, as in the above press release. It’s either ignorant or dishonest – probably a bit of both.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

citrinella
Saturday 6th August 2011, 20:30
Masterful propaganda. The ‘hungry gap’ is an idea dreamt up to explain away the fact that 15 years of agri-environment schemes have failed to reverse declines in farmland birds.

The "hungry gap" was not an idea invented by conservationists at all, no matter what the RSPB press office might say. It has long been a problem for farmers, and used to be a critical problem to humans in seasonal climates (still is in some parts). It is that period of the seasonal cycle when old food stocks ar low, or run out, before new food stocks have reached the edible stage.

Not sure I am impressed by the use of ryegrass for buntings. When we could leave some grass set-aside un-mown we did see a flock of linnets feeding on it. It was quite remarkable in that they started at one end of a strip and worked systematically along. When the birds were not present it was still obvious where they were working - by seeing that heads further down the hill were stripped, those up the hill untouched. Only a couple of dozen linnet were ever present, and never any larger finches or buntings. Cereal based feeding systems attract buntings and large finches in good numbers, and rape based systems attract linnet in good numbers.

We have been ringing in winter at sites with different feed strategies for some years. Sites with wild bird cover lose their birds about the end of January. The other sites with an artificial feeding regime don't. At those sites with an artificial feeding regime, significant feed is taken to about the end of May (one very cold year to the end of June). That is the hungry gap, it is real, and the only known way to combat it reliably is to feed. That is expensive especially in labour, but the farmer who hosts us that only had wild bird cover has seen the results too and has decided, without prompting from us, to start an artificial feeding programme. No, we don't get any financial support for doing this.

Mike, farmer and conservationist.

halftwo
Sunday 7th August 2011, 07:53
There are various ways of approaching this. Marginal value theorem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marginal_value_theorem) states that a forager should leave a patch when intake rate falls to the average. A patch with high food availability will be depleted more slowly, so foragers should stay there for a longer period. Alternatively, ideal free theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideal_free_distribution) states that foragers should distribute themselves across the landscape so as to equalise their intake rate, which declines as forager density increases. Patches with high food availability will provide a higher intake rate for a given density, and so should support higher forager density than patches with lower food availability.


Thanks for taking the time to explain.

citrinella
Sunday 7th August 2011, 09:24
]Marginal value theorem states that a forager should leave a patch when intake rate falls to the average. A patch with high food availability will be depleted more slowly, so foragers should stay there for a longer period. Alternatively, ideal free theory states that foragers should distribute themselves across the landscape so as to equalise their intake rate, which declines as forager density increases. Patches with high food availability will provide a higher intake rate for a given density, and so should support higher forager density than patches with lower food availability.

The important thing to bear in mind in both cases is that the rules still hold when poorer quality patches provide a more than adequate food supply, so aggregation of foragers in food rich patches doesn’t mean that they would suffer any detriment if those patches were removed. However studies showing that birds are attracted to improved habitat is constantly spun as evidence for general food shortage, as in the above press release. It’s either ignorant or dishonest – probably a bit of both.
And totally ignores other BTO research (sorry, cannot cite where) showing that foragers flock up, presumably as defence against predators, even when the "optimum" feeding strategy would be for them to disperse. That also suggests that both those theorems do not apply to granivorous passerines in winter in general.

It also suggests that the patches of wild bird cover may be offering birds better feeding conditions even when adequate food is distributed thinly across the countryside. Why ? because the birds benefit from being flocked up as a defence against predators.

As a farmer (and committed conservationist) I have been very critical of the RSPB over the years. However, I have always respected the fact that they are trying to _do_ something which is apparently far beyond the imagination of so many. I am also aware that I have made many of the same mistakes as RSPB, have learnt and adapted and I have seen the RSPB doing the same. In particular, I too started (25 years ago) with a species centred approach. I have moved on gradually from that to the state where I am today - with a general principle of generating as much diversity of habitat and opportunity for all different types of wildlife and letting that wildlife exploit the opportunities. The RSPB are quite clearly moving in the same direction - and earning my respect in the process even though I wish they could move faster, achieve more. We should help them. I am not saying criticism is out - but we should accept the limitations such a large organization faces.

My criticisms of the RSPB have centred like CP Bell on the "upper" management being too focussed on fund generation rather than actually doing the conservation work. I would be quick to say that I think that RSPB staff in general do an excellent job despite poor pay (typical of rural workers !) though you will find exceptions in any generalization. However, it must be difficult, in senior RSPB management, not to become obsessed with money. Imagine the furore if they failed to keep the funds rolling in. It is not inconceivable that they could end up in prison for mis-managing such a flagship charity if things went wrong. Consider - how many bread-winners are torn between their urge to keep the bread on the table and the need to spend time with their family ? It is not a dissimilar position, and has the same difficulty in trying to see the bigger picture from inside the situation.

I haven't been aware of the BTO being too focussed on fund raising.

As for agri-environment schemes failing. Yes, there has been a study done in Scotland comparing farms in schemes and farms outside schemes. It found, basically, that schemes achieved little, that some farms were good and some were poor regardless of whether they were in schemes or not. I can't remember but I think they pointed to farmer attitude. This did not surprise me as I and any similar minded farmers would be classified as "not in scheme" and all organic farmers, who are generally only in it for financial reasons, were classified as "in scheme". When you set targets (in the latter case financial) you tend to focus on them and achieve them, everything else tends to get forgotten.

In that sense I am lucky. My business, like any other, has to make money. However, to achieve that I use a contract farmer who concentrates on farming profitably (with considerable backup from me) freeing me to focus more effort on conservation, especially now that I have lost my outside job !

So, I would accept that agri-environment schemes are not doing well - though I would question whether we have good enough information to say they have achieved nothing. For instance, the education information put out to farmers has probably affected many farmers thinking even if they are not in schemes - perhaps the good farmers found by the Scottish study have done better because they know what is being advised under these schemes. I almost certainly fall into that category.

I believe that agri-environment schemes could work, probably already have, and that continuing them is not "flogging a dead horse". However, to justify the amount of money put in, they need to change, we need to up our game.

What do I think schemes need to do to perform better ?

They need to become part of the profit picture for farmers. Remember the farmers maxim - "live for today, farm as if you will be farming for 1000 years". Many. probably most, farmers do dream of passing on their businesses to future generation ad infinitum, and to do that the business must be financially sound. If farmers generally are focussing on making profit, conservation is always going to take last priority if it is perceived as a loss leader.

Is conservation a loss leader ? In immediate financial terms, most definitely. EU policy is that direct agri-environment scheme payments should not cover more than 75% of costs. So, a 25% loss guaranteed, in the bureaucrats eyes. To the farmer things are much worse - because scheme rules value the farmer's time at £0. Yep - we are slaves. Add to that the high rate of inflation we are experiencing (well above RPI for critical inputs such as energy) and that 75% of costs becomes a joke.

My suggestion is that agri-environment payments should be set at a level which gives a decent profit to the farmer. There are already excellent, excessive, bureaucratic controls in place to make sure that work gets done properly. Where does the money to pay farmers come from ? Reduce direct payments, so called Pillar 1 or Single Farm Payments to fund this. To her credit Caroline Spellman publicly supported similar moves, though without the profit for agri-environment work. Unfortunately in the face of blind panic amongst the industry lobby (fear of the unknown amongst subsidy junkies), she backed down.

What can you all do ?

Criticism is good. Criticise the agri-environment schemes for under performing. We might get some improvements eventually, even if not what I would consider the best ones ... but then I am a farmer ! Oh, and please keep your criticisms calm and to the point. Anything else tends to be dismissed out of hand as ignorant bluster from "those with an agenda" ;)

Mike.

CPBell
Sunday 7th August 2011, 13:12
And totally ignores other BTO research (sorry, cannot cite where) showing that foragers flock up, presumably as defence against predators, even when the "optimum" feeding strategy would be for them to disperse. That also suggests that both those theorems do not apply to granivorous passerines in winter in general.


Theoretical models only ever work perfectly in the lab, where all confounding variables can be controlled. In the field a whole range of additional trade-offs come into play, and it’s easy to show departures from predictions and then build ever more complex models to explain them. Such is the stuff of scientific empire building. However this doesn’t affect the soundness or applicability of the general principle, which is that birds (or flocks of birds) are attracted to the most profitable patches, even if less profitable patches are more than adequate.

The fact that the hungry gap idea was co-opted by conservationists is instructive. It has intuitive appeal as many people are still aware of the seasonal cycle of local agricultural production. However, this is just another plausible ‘just-so’ story. Remember that birds are highly mobile, and most seedeaters are partial migrants. If a ‘hungry gap’ had suddenly appeared because of changes in agriculture, this would have tipped demography in favour of more migratory individuals, and so populations would not have declined, but simply become more migratory.

My issue with the upper echelons of the RSPB and big-business conservation in general is not so much their concentration on the bottom line as the extent to which this is prioritised over the mission. Agro-conservation policy is one thing, but from my perspective the politicisation of ecological science is particularly disturbing. My experience is that it’s practically impossible to do objective science on bird ecology in the UK, since opportunity, funding and publication is determined by what’s good for the ‘industry’.

In the end, this boils down to grandiose, top-down schemes that demand a vast bureaucratic apparatus, at the top of which sit the all-knowing technocrats, pushing down blame and pulling up credit. At this stage, the role of the professional scientist is to generate evidence that supports the underlying manifesto, so what they do ceases to be science in any meaningful sense of the word.

Oh, and I agree about calm and to the point, but sweet reason on its own can be a bit dry, so you need to leaven it with a bit of bluster now and again, so long as you keep it low on the Mark Avery scale.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

redeyedvideo
Sunday 7th August 2011, 17:29
In terms of propaganda you appear to have found a niche when it comes to anti-RSPB rhetoric. I fail to see why this suggestion could be considered a bad thing and how if included within Environmental Stewardship Schemes it would 'increase the RSPB's power and influence' other than ensuring the knoll they are conspiring dominance from is a slightly more grassy one than current.

Food such as seed declines as winter progresses, the provision of additional food if it helps secure the survival of some individuals that would otherwise have perished must surely be positive in the face of recent declines?

There is nothing in the RSPB press release that suggests they are trying to prove any theory regarding the decline in Farmland Birds, simply trying to create something positive to counter what they see as a factor.

As far as 'demonising' is concerned MA's comments in the linked article seemed to be particularly aimed at the NFU who do appear (to me) to have been fairly negative, slow and unresponsive to environmental concerns and proposals at times when compared to other farming organisations such as the CLA.

Look on the bright side, at least there'll be a little more food for the Sparrowhawks and somebody like Songbird Survival might commission more research from you so they can perpetuate the myth they need to be controlled.

A thoroughly intelligent response from someone who obviously knows what they are talking about.

For a big business operation with a £100m turnover the RSPB do get a bit of a free ride when it comes to criticism, especially considering the catastrophic declines in bird populations that have happened on their watch.

"On their watch" Are you seriously saying it's the fault of the RSPB? Did they have a presence when the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 and do they contribute to the policy making of the Common Agricultural Policy?

Alan Tilmouth
Sunday 7th August 2011, 19:09
Theoretical models only ever work perfectly in the lab, where all confounding variables can be controlled.

I think it was you that started introducing scientific theories...


If a ‘hungry gap’ had suddenly appeared because of changes in agriculture, this would have tipped demography in favour of more migratory individuals, and so populations would not have declined, but simply become more migratory.

There was no claim in the original PR you were attacking that a hungry gap had suddenly appeared. Given the relative pace of change in agriculture over a very short period of time in evolutionary terms surely adaptations of this nature are highly unlikely to be able to keep pace?

My issue with the upper echelons of the RSPB and big-business conservation in general is not so much their concentration on the bottom line as the extent to which this is prioritised over the mission.

I've never worked for the RSPB and I have no first hand knowledge of the balance of their spend between fund-raising and conservation. I have however worked in business in senior management and your comments regarding 'the bottom line' are fairly frequent, sometimes true for some organisations, but in many other instances borne out of ignorance and an inability to see longer term and strategic rather than short term aims.

Chunks of what you write and say in your videos display a bitterness towards these organisations (RSPB/BTO)and whilst you regularly claim to be seeking the truth, something you probably believe, it is a truth that seems to be driven by a belief that 'they are wrong and I am right' that just appears a little blinkered at times.
The RSPB/BTO are not above criticism and if you trawl through my personal blog you'll find the odd piece doing just that but where it's done it's done in a positive and hopefully constructive way without an undercurrent of something personal.

ZanderII
Sunday 7th August 2011, 19:28
If decline by a half of birds on farmland and by a third in woodland doesn’t constitute evidence of failure, I find it difficult to imagine what would.


You miss the point. Where's the control UK without conservation intervention? You have all sorts of synergisms at play here, maybe without the RSPB the declines would have been more severe?

I grant the RSPB’s success in preserving small and for the most part globally irrelevant populations of species on the edge of their breeding ranges in the British Isles. It makes good commercial sense through serving the public’s interest in novelty, but let’s not pretend it amounts to a hill of beans in the scheme of things.


And the population of globally even more common farmland birds matters even more? And House Sparrows, give me a break? We all know the British Isles is a shifted baseline. Were there millions of pairs of Corn Bunting in the UK when it was a wildwood? We are legally obliged to do conservation at home, unfortunately what we have is only marginally worth conserving. Our national parks are sterile upland areas. Maybe though, with ideas like the Great Fen Project we can start to recreate lost biodiverse ecosystems...

What about Roseate Terns, or other globally rare taxa? Of course most UK biodiversity is not important on a global scale, that's why the RSPB has fingers in more important pies.

Above all CPB - what would YOU do?

Z

CPBell
Sunday 7th August 2011, 21:45
Given the relative pace of change in agriculture over a very short period of time in evolutionary terms surely adaptations of this nature are highly unlikely to be able to keep pace?

On the contrary, migratory behaviour is very likely to be able to keep pace. Selective breeding of members of a partial migrant population can produce 100% migrants or non-migrants in 3-6 generations. See figure 1 here (http://www.int-ornith-union.org/files/proceedings/durban/Plenary/Plenary01/Plenary01.htm).

Chunks of what you write and say in your videos display a bitterness towards these organisations (RSPB/BTO)and whilst you regularly claim to be seeking the truth, something you probably believe, it is a truth that seems to be driven by a belief that 'they are wrong and I am right' that just appears a little blinkered at times.


Psychoanalyse me as much as you like. My motivation is supremely irrelevant, and both sides to any dispute think they are right. What matters is how they justify their belief. RSPB/BTO expend vast resources accumulating evidence that appears to favour theories that strengthen their respective business models. However science does the opposite – it devises falsifiable hypotheses and looks for evidence that they are false. This is what I did in my house sparrow study, but I can’t do any more because RSPB/BTO stand in the way. Real science is much too dangerous when you have a business to run, since you can’t predict what the outcome will be.

And the population of globally even more common farmland birds matters even more? And House Sparrows, give me a break?

I think most people would rather have their House Sparrows back than worry about a few hundred Cirl Buntings in south Devon or a few hundred Corncrakes in the Outer Hebrides. If you disagree, fine. Keep paying your RSPB subscriptions and supporting their work, but don’t ask the taxpayer to subsidise it or demand that farmers implement their ineffectual schemes.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

ZanderII
Sunday 7th August 2011, 23:19
I think most people would rather have their House Sparrows back than worry about a few hundred Cirl Buntings in south Devon or a few hundred Corncrakes in the Outer Hebrides. If you disagree, fine. Keep paying your RSPB subscriptions and supporting their work, but don’t ask the taxpayer to subsidise it or demand that farmers implement their ineffectual schemes.


All of which points are irrelevant to what I have just said:

1) House Sparrows - shifted baseline and a dirty commensal. We'll get them back once natural selection kicks in for more risk adverse foraging though right? I buy your Sparrowhawk story, you'd sell it better if you were less defensive. Predators impact prey populations, sh*t it happens. Competition happens too, does anyone think we should resume commercial whaling operations in Antarctica because a resurgent whale population is driving down penguin populations because there is only a finite amount of primary productivity to divide up? We are talking about additive mortality here.

2) Global population of Corncrake = 1.815-3.24 million so yeah common, but this species was considered globally threatened until recently: cf: http://www.corncrake.net/index_e.html In a western European context Scottish populations are important.

3) Please either concede or offer a rebuttal to my previous points. If you expect everyone else not to cherrypick.... How can we know that conservation interventions brought about by UK NGOs have demonstrably not worked? Without a 'national' control?

what is your conservation manifesto?

Z

citrinella
Monday 8th August 2011, 10:10
Theoretical models only ever work perfectly in the lab, where all confounding variables can be controlled. In the field a whole range of additional trade-offs come into play, and it’s easy to show departures from predictions and then build ever more complex models to explain them. Such is the stuff of scientific empire building. However this doesn’t affect the soundness or applicability of the general principle, which is that birds (or flocks of birds) are attracted to the most profitable patches, even if less profitable patches are more than adequate.
Yes but ... the theoretical models you pointed too may have nothing to do with the mechanism by which this happens at all !


The fact that the hungry gap idea was co-opted by conservationists is instructive. It has intuitive appeal as many people are still aware of the seasonal cycle of local agricultural production. However, this is just another plausible ‘just-so’ story. Remember that birds are highly mobile, and most seedeaters are partial migrants. If a ‘hungry gap’ had suddenly appeared because of changes in agriculture, this would have tipped demography in favour of more migratory individuals, and so populations would not have declined, but simply become more migratory.
I have read your bit about how this can happen quite quickly. Maybe, in partial migrant species. In highly sedentary species such as house sparrows and yellowhammers I cannot see how this could happen quickly if at all because there probably would be no individuals with advantageous behaviour to start the change. In general it is insectivores that migrate, not seed eaters, and it is the seed eaters that are being bitten by the hungry gap.

OK, some seed eaters are partial migrants. Redpoll and siskin are doing OK - but they feed on trees. Linnets are doing OK - on the back of rising areas of oil seed crops. Chaffinch are doing well, but they are generalists, not farmland birds. I'm not aware of any other partial migrants doing reasonably. I guess they are only locally migratory but goldfinches are doing very well - because they have learnt to use garden feeders and then co-operated with the bird seed industry in persuading people to provide plenty nyger seed. Another partial migrant, twite, are doing rubbish but their strategy was to exploit better seed availability in arable areas - and it isn't better anymore. And then there are buntings, skylark, grey partridge ...

Another barrier to increasing migrant behaviour is the extent over which these agricultural changes are taking place. It isn't just a matter of moving a bit further and finding things as they were. the migrant would have to move much further _and_ have to change foraging behaviour _and_ food source.

Ironically the hungry gap is getting less of an issue for farmers due to better transport and storage. There are still issues with forage for ruminants in some years but we tend to manage resources much "better". At the same time it is probably getting worse for birds where farmers have not taken steps to mitigate for changes in practice. What changes ? Machinery, combines, are much more efficient now. We simply do not leave so much spilt grain in the field. Herbicides are much better, and crop competition far more effective at inhibiting "weeds". Far fewer seed producing plants survive. Set aside has gone, which was an important source of seed. Winter cropping (i.e. sowing in autumn) is increasing, so less stubble is left into the winter, let alone through to the spring when the birds need the feed. Specialization of farms mean livestock areas are losing cereal cropping almost completely.

My issue with the upper echelons of the RSPB and big-business conservation in general is not so much their concentration on the bottom line as the extent to which this is prioritised over the mission. Agro-conservation policy is one thing, but from my perspective the politicisation of ecological science is particularly disturbing.
I have already explained this. Have you ever managed a big budget where the buck stops with you, where the responsibility really is serious ? There is only so much one can focus on, and you do tend to prioritize and delegate. Look deeper in the RSPB and lots of staff are focussed on the mission. Don't expect everybody to do everything, you are far too idealistic !

My experience is that it’s practically impossible to do objective science on bird ecology in the UK, since opportunity, funding and publication is determined by what’s good for the ‘industry’.
Always the case, in all fields of academia, business, politics, the lot, and the "industry" needs people like you to stimulate wider thinking.

In the end, this boils down to grandiose, top-down schemes that demand a vast bureaucratic apparatus, at the top of which sit the all-knowing technocrats, pushing down blame and pulling up credit.
How can the RSPB or other conservation NGOs be held responsible for that ? That is the climate we work in, and it is set by Brussels. Believe me, nothing significant in conservation on farms happens outside the rule of Brussels remit. There are enthusiasts like me who do our own thing, but we are too few to be truly significant, and most of what we do is ideas that come from the mainstream. If the RSPB didn't play the game, they'd have no say in the deployment of resources far beyond their own - they'd be missing the opportunity to "gear up" their work. Worse, if they (and others like them) were not informing and lobbying UK and EU governments then conservation would fall off the agenda. Nobody would give a tuppenny bit. They would also be failing their members, their charter, their objectives.

It is all very well to criticize conservation organizations for being mainstream, but it will never change. What can change is what is mainstream, so get on with good research, get it published, find out how to implement it in practice, then it will become part of the main stream. I am not saying shut up, only self-publicists attract money nowadays. We can all benefit from positive messages, let's hear some - things we can do !

Mike.

CPBell
Monday 8th August 2011, 11:59
3) Please either concede or offer a rebuttal to my previous points. If you expect everyone else not to cherrypick.... How can we know that conservation interventions brought about by UK NGOs have demonstrably not worked? Without a 'national' control?

what is your conservation manifesto?

Surely the burden of proof rests with those advocating the conservation interventions you refer to, given the level of public expenditure this involves? You seem to be saying this is impossible, since by your criterion of absence of a control, it can’t be determined whether they have any effect, positive or negative.

Your position is therefore that we should continue to spend billions even though we cannot possibly know whether it works, just in case it is working. If I had a conservation manifesto, it certainly wouldn’t be that. However, my objective is to understand nature rather than to monetize it, which is why I object to the kind of Lysenkoism promulgated by the RSPB et al.

Yes but ... the theoretical models you pointed too may have nothing to do with the mechanism by which this happens at all !

True, but they are generally quite robust when tested ‘in situ’. See for instance ‘ideal free ducks’.

Another barrier to increasing migrant behaviour is the extent over which these agricultural changes are taking place. It isn't just a matter of moving a bit further and finding things as they were. the migrant would have to move much further _and_ have to change foraging behaviour _and_ food source.

Partial migrants from the UK generally move down into France/Iberia, so it’s this section of the population that would gain advantage and expand relative to residents. No novel behaviour would be required.

At the same time it is probably getting worse for birds where farmers have not taken steps to mitigate for changes in practice. What changes ? Machinery, combines, are much more efficient now. We simply do not leave so much spilt grain in the field. Herbicides are much better, and crop competition far more effective at inhibiting "weeds". Far fewer seed producing plants survive. Set aside has gone, which was an important source of seed. Winter cropping (i.e. sowing in autumn) is increasing, so less stubble is left into the winter, let alone through to the spring when the birds need the feed. Specialization of farms mean livestock areas are losing cereal cropping almost completely.

These are well-rehearsed arguments but they don’t amount to evidence as I’ve argued here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5ZjNrUQgjk).

How can the RSPB or other conservation NGOs be held responsible for that ?

If you sup with the devil you need a long spoon. My point is that NGOs throw their weight behind whichever scientific theory does most to support ‘gearing up’. The problem arises when the theory happens not to be true, and leads to policy that doesn’t work, no matter how well funded.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

citrinella
Monday 8th August 2011, 20:25
Partial migrants from the UK generally move down into France/Iberia, so it’s this section of the population that would gain advantage and expand relative to residents. No novel behaviour would be required.
Firstly, examples please of farmland seed eaters which exhibit this pattern of migration ?

Second, France most definitely has suffered the same sort of changes. Perhaps these are less pronounced further south into Spain.

Mike.

CPBell
Tuesday 9th August 2011, 10:55
Firstly, examples please of farmland seed eaters which exhibit this pattern of migration ?

Certainly Linnet (which has become more migratory) and Goldfinch, and to some extent Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Reed Bunting.

Second, France most definitely has suffered the same sort of changes. Perhaps these are less pronounced further south into Spain.

Maybe, but the argument becomes harder to sustain when it requires similar changes continent wide across a range of varying agricultural zones, including areas with a less severe resource bottleneck due to milder climate.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

citrinella
Tuesday 9th August 2011, 20:55
Certainly Linnet (which has become more migratory) and Goldfinch, and to some extent Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Reed Bunting.

Thanks, just found the 2010 ringing report on-line at http://blx1.bto.org/ring/countyrec/results2010/recUK2010.htm#16600. We have noticed linnet mobility from the north - controlled birds here from Easter Ross and Orkney. Haven't detected southward movement but they are much harder for us to catch in summer. Pity, as I have a flock up to 150 feeding on rape at the back of my house !

Interesting that linnet and goldfinch are species doing better - but there could be other explanations as already stated. Greenfinch have suffered very badly from disease so population statistics are not very useful in this context. Chaffinch movements are mainly to the UK for the winter, very few in reverse. Less than a score of ringing recoveries involve movement to France or Spain, and the report doesn't show season for individuals. This last also applies to reed bunting, with the additional point that there haven't been many foreign movements of any kind.


Maybe, but the argument becomes harder to sustain when it requires similar changes continent wide across a range of varying agricultural zones, including areas with a less severe resource bottleneck due to milder climate.

Obviously, but changes continent wide are happening because they are driven by the _Common_ Agricultural Policy. I will agree southern Spain is very different to northern France, but for some of those species it appears to be France rather than Spain that might be getting the movements.

Mike.

CPBell
Wednesday 10th August 2011, 12:16
Interesting that linnet and goldfinch are species doing better - but there could be other explanations as already stated.

We can endlessly debate the pros and cons of different explanations for population declines, but the only way to really find out is to set personal or corporate interests aside and do some hard nosed science.

For Linnet and Goldfinch, as well as Bullfinch, Tree Sparrow, Corn Bunting and a range of other declining farmland species, there should by now be a study in press showing definitively whether or not their declines can be explained by Sparrowhawk predation. However this has been prevented by non-cooperation from the BTO and RSPB. They control the terms of the debate in their own corporate interests, regardless of the interests of the public or of biodiversity.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

'roy
Wednesday 10th August 2011, 16:32
...but the only way to really find out is to set personal or corporate interests aside and do some hard nosed science.


Indeed. But do you seriously think you're the man for the job? After reading page after page of your wildly politicised and often downright bonkers rhetoric, I'm afraid you've stripped yourself of all credibility. Your claim of being an "objective scientist" is completely laughable at this point.

I'd suggest that your best chance of furthering science would be to offer yourself up to neurobiologists as an example of the human brain's remarkable capacity for self-delusion and dissonant reasoning...

Redshank3
Wednesday 10th August 2011, 19:33
Personally I cannot claim to talk about the science but from personal observation birding in a variety of areas (rural gloucestershire, devon and surrey and urban london) I have noticed that high intensity dairy farmland is essentially dead as far as all bar corvids and gulls go (the latter mainly only if muck is spread). Where I lived in gloucestershire in the area of the severn valley just south of the forest of dean the only significant populations of farmland birds such as linnets goldfinches and yellowhammers etc. were on land adjacent to the minimally cultivated saltmarsh grassland or heath land. Even whitethroat were scarce. One farm stood out as having significantly more birds including the only tree sparows I knew of in the area and this was part of a shoot with large areas of cover and feed crops sown and left for pheasant and partridge to feed/live in.

Here in South Devon I see many, many more farmland birds but again mainly in the coastal strip or adjacent to the moor/heaths.

F or me the glaringly obvious fact is that much of the mono-culture countryside is devoid of sufficient food/diversity of food to sustain bird populations, only areas with less intensive cultivation and therefore plenty of good healthy 'weeds' etc. can provide enough of a mix of seeds and insects to attract and sustain birds throughout the year.

What exists now in many areas - vast cereal prairies or acre after acre of short cropped rye grass broken by short thin heavily flailed hedges is clearly disastrous for birds. Frankly ANY policy that improves this even slightly has got to be worth supporting.

As for criticism of the RSPB efforts re Cirl Bunting here in south Devon please get real!



I think most people would rather have their House Sparrows back than worry about a few hundred Cirl Buntings in south Devon or a few hundred Corncrakes in the Outer Hebrides. If you disagree, fine. Keep paying your RSPB subscriptions and supporting their work, but don’t ask the taxpayer to subsidise it or demand that farmers implement their ineffectual schemes.


Living in south Devon one thing is glaringly obvious; the problems of the Cirl Bunting are much the same as those for farmland birds in general - yes it may be a species on the edge of it's range BUT areas with good Cirl Bunting populations are also good for yellowhammer, linnet, goldfinch, whitethroat etc. etc. Any efforts to support Cirl bunting are likely to help other species too and might even help provide ideas and methods to combat the more general decline in farmland birds.

Tom

jurek
Wednesday 10th August 2011, 19:57
I find RSPB policy dubious in that nature would benefit more from slashing farming dotations altogether and abandoning marginal farmland to wildlife. But this is no support of your allegations.

continue to spend billions even though we cannot possibly know whether it works

Getting interesting.

Could you elaborate how many "billions" are spend on farmland bird conservation?

And that had dotations were not spend on bird-friendly farming, they would be saved, instead of spent on other dotations of no benefit to wildlife?

Or that nature dotations are significant portion of budget at all? In my experience, conservation is often accused of wasting a penny where thousand pounds is wasted elsewhere.

ZanderII
Wednesday 10th August 2011, 20:33
However, my objective is to understand nature rather than to monetize it, which is why I object to the kind of Lysenkoism promulgated by the RSPB et al.

Lets get quantitative here, can you point out the fundamental flaws in the burgeoning primary science literature on farmland birds and then show me how results from

a) studies funded and executed by NGO staff

b) funded by NGO staff

c) independent of both

differ in their conclusions? There are plenty of balanced reviews that have dealt with the successes and failures of conservation interventions in the UK. I just don't understand where you are taking your paranoid narative. As 'roy points out this just undermines your credability.

Z

ZanderII
Wednesday 10th August 2011, 20:37
[I]The ‘hungry gap’ is an idea dreamt up to explain away the fact that 15 years of agri-environment schemes have failed to reverse declines in farmland birds.

You read this: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2009.01001.x/abstract ?

Seems like a balanced paper to me, where is the conspiracy? Did you fall out with Dan?

Z

jurek
Wednesday 10th August 2011, 21:02
can you point out the fundamental flaws in the burgeoning primary science literature on farmland birds and then show me how results from

a) studies funded and executed by NGO staff

b) funded by NGO staff

c) independent of both

differ in their conclusions?

I think CPBell point was that some types of studies are not performed, some results are selectively ignored and some conclusions are not drawn (that is, ones which show little benefit for birds from policies supported by RSPB, or that alternative actions might bring more benefit).

I doubt CPBell is right, especially because money on agricultural budget could not be used for other conservation.

But certainly, RSPB, as a big organization influencing huge ares of land, stands to questions which small NGO does not. Overall I think it is better with RSPB than wthout it.

CPBell
Wednesday 10th August 2011, 22:25
As for criticism of the RSPB efforts re Cirl Bunting here in south Devon please get real!



I don’t dispute the fact that bird communities are depauperate in many farmland areas, but this doesn’t establish that intensification is responsible for 1970s-80s population collapse. One of the cornerstones of this idea is this paper (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2664.2000.00548.x/full) published 10 years ago by the BTO. They found that the most rapid period of intensification started in the early 1970s, several years before the start of the period of farmland bird decline, and conclude that a time lag is ‘just what would be expected’. However, this is just being wise after the event. If they had found that the beginning of intensification coincided with that of bird declines I doubt they would have concluded the two must be unconnected because of a lack of a timelag.

The point about Cirl Bunting is that like Corncrakes, like Stone Curlews, it’s a targeted operation focused on small relict populations, using approaches that cannot be translated to the larger scale. Such operations are small beer besides wholesale declines of species that make up the bulk of our native avifauna, so provide little defence against the charge of negligence by the RSPB, which was the point at issue.

You say that any policy that improves depauperate areas should be supported. The problem is that Entry-level Stewardship schemes have not led to the expected improvements, and even if a public policy proves successful, surely a case needs to be made that it provides value for money? No such issues arise with your bird-rich farm hosting a shoot, since this is supported by commercial business, but how viable will such businesses be if the RSPB continues its obsession with raptors?



Could you elaborate how many "billions" are spend on farmland bird conservation?



Agri-environment schemes are funded under pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy to the tune of about £0.5 billion per year UK-wide.

You read this: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2009.01001.x/abstract ?

Seems like a balanced paper to me, where is the conspiracy? Did you fall out with Dan?


Bog-standard BTO fluff, explaining away the lack of success of entry level schemes as a consequence of monitoring difficulties, ‘time-lags’, and as evidence of the need for better implementation. Oh, and most important of all, of course, more research.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

King Edward
Thursday 11th August 2011, 00:11
Agri-environment schemes are funded under pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy to the tune of about £0.5 billion per year UK-wide.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is essentially £0.5 billion of agricultural subsidy budget that is being allocated on the basis of 'environmentally-friendly' farm practices (rather than being allocated on the basis of, say, how many sheep you claim to have). Which is not the same as £0.5 billion of conservation budget being allocated to agriculture (rather than to, say, dedicated nature reserves) as being the most effective way to spend this money for conservation purposes.

If ELS was scrapped as being ineffective (which you're probably right about), the money would probably be paid to farmers some other way, or it wouldn't be paid at all - it wouldn't be available for non-agricultural conservation. This is essentially the point that Jurek was making.
---
Rather than doling out enormous amounts of subsidy money, how about some legislation aimed at improving farmland habitat quality for birds/invertebrates by reducing the frequency of hedge cutting, e.g. by prohibiting the trimming of both sides of a hedge in the same year.

ZanderII
Thursday 11th August 2011, 02:06
Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is essentially £0.5 billion of agricultural subsidy budget that is being allocated on the basis of 'environmentally-friendly' farm practices (rather than being allocated on the basis of, say, how many sheep you claim to have). Which is not the same as £0.5 billion of conservation budget being allocated to agriculture (rather than to, say, dedicated nature reserves) as being the most effective way to spend this money for conservation purposes.

If ELS was scrapped as being ineffective (which you're probably right about), the money would probably be paid to farmers some other way, or it wouldn't be paid at all - it wouldn't be available for non-agricultural conservation. This is essentially the point that Jurek was making.
---
Rather than doling out enormous amounts of subsidy money, how about some legislation aimed at improving farmland habitat quality for birds/invertebrates by reducing the frequency of hedge cutting, e.g. by prohibiting the trimming of both sides of a hedge in the same year.

well put KE.

and the lysenkoism CPB? Can we have some evidence?

citrinella
Thursday 11th August 2011, 07:28
Oh, and most important of all, of course, more research.
Hmm. But it is all right for you to demand money for your research ?

As a farmer, I see evidence all round me that supports the BTO research. OK, they are not painting a complete picture, but as I have succeeded in growing better crops, so skylark have declined. As I improve habitat provision, so birds that can benefit increase. For instance, setting aside areas and managing for skylark has worked when in traditionally good parts of the farm where crops have been improved numbers have fallen dramatically. this isn't a matter of migrating from one to the other because overall numbers have fallen where previously they had held steady. This is just one example.

I find it easy to believe that without agri-environment payments things might have been worse. It doesn't matter. The EU has been convinced, will always be convinced, that French farmers need support (though the budget will decline). If French farmers are going to get support, so will all other EU farmers. If we are going to get support, I believe that money should be handed out on the basis of farmers providing social good in return. The best social good I can think of is to _try_ to improve the environment. It so happens I also believe that we risk a collapse in food production if we do not protect the environment.

At the moment Pillar 1 payments are almost all handed out on the basis of "how much did you used to get" under the old system. That old system was based on number of hectares of crop, how many head of livestock. However, the new system does not require those conditions to continue as it was distorting the market leading to such things as gross over-grazing in the hills. By bits of bureaucratic trickery it is sometimes possible to carry on getting the payments when you have given up being a farmer, as situation which is being examined. So I consider that so long as payments continue, they should only be paid on the condition of providing social good, such as trying to protect and enhance the environment.

What I find most curious about CP Bell's responses is the fact that they completely ignore the realities of the situation. I have pointed out the political realities from the EU driving agriculture and hence the conservation NGOs. Are these irrelevant ? I have pointed out the legal and moral responsibilities driving the top management of the conservation NGOs. Are these irrelevant ? I have pointed out the personal limitations of the top management of the NGOs that lead to them choosing the safe, to most people most responsible, course in the management of those NGOs. Are these irrelevant ? These people are human, there is no person on this planet that can control and direct all aspects of such large, complex, organizations single handed.

Oh, and the environment around us, the web of relationships between species, makes those complexities look like a single building brick. We will never do enough research to know it all, and even if we did we, humans, would be totally incapable of understanding and using that detailed information in any meaningful way. Complaining of lack of research is all very well, but ultimately getting the research done and applied in the way that is being talked about - detail on every little question, is impractical.

Oh, and goldfinch declining ? I don't think so !

Mike.

Mike Shurmer
Thursday 11th August 2011, 08:07
The original story seems to be about leaving areas of silage uncut over the winter. Given that silage is such an inhospitable crop for wildlife, with frequent cuts during the year basically destroying nests of skylark, curlews, corn buntings etc..., anything that can bring some positive benefits is good. There are large areas of the country which basically have grass silage and maize and little else, which leave very little seed food over the winter. Boosting this sounds like an excellent idea.

The figure of £0.5 billion per year spend on agri-environment schemes is probably accurate but the statement is misleading. This is not all spent on farmland birds. The schemes hit a range of objectives, including conserving landscapes, the historic environment and resource protection (ie reducing pollution). Only a proportion of this money is spent on biodiversity, and only a proportion of the amount spent on biodiversity is spent on farmland birds. As a taxpayer I am quite happy for some of my money to be spent on farmland bird conservation.

CPBell
Thursday 11th August 2011, 12:05
Lysenkoism? Try this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QV_e5wJjsA) comrade.

The arguments being offered here seem to boil down to the idea that letting hedges grow and leaving grassy margins must be a good thing because it makes intensive farmland look like it’s probably better for birds and other wildlife. If this had been the argument used by NGOs that lobbied governments for agri-management, they wouldn’t have got very far. What they did instead was insist that science showed that catastrophic bird declines on farmland over the decade either side of 1980 (including Goldfinch!) were caused by changes in agriculture, and that this would be reversed by prescriptions based on the same science. This hasn’t happened, and to me this makes perfect sense because the science itself appears badly flawed. The NGOs can’t admit that, because it’s been the source of so much funding for them, as well as power and influence.

Regarding Citrinella’s point on political and corporate realities – I agree. This is precisely the argument that rattles so many cages when I put it forward. NGO policy is driven by what’s good for the NGO’s, and power politics underlies all. Any science geek that is daft enough to say ‘hold on a minute’ will get chewed up and spat out in no time at all.

As for my own position, I’m not demanding anything except access to publicly funded datasets held by the BTO. Instead, I face being asked to pay for privilege of working for free on a study that the BTO wouldn’t look at for less than £50k of lovely taxpayers’ money, probably nearer £100k, and which they won’t do anyway in case it produces the ‘wrong’ answer.

http://www.cpbell.co.uk
http://www.youtube.com/CultoftheAmateur

simple
Monday 15th August 2011, 16:02
CPBell you basically dont have a very good understanding of the situation if you think hedges and grass margins cut it for farmland birds.

You also fail to realise that farmland bird declines started a lot sooner than 1970's the farmland bird index in my opinion does not go back far enough.

I find it odd that you fail to recognise that not only the RSPB's own Hope Farm and other farms involved in projects such as SAFFIE project etc have been able to raise farmland bird numbers.

Farmed Environment Company, Farm4Bio, GWCT, FWAG, BTO and others came to the same conclusion that you need around 4% of a farms arable area to reverse farmland bird declines by providing the following:

Insect rich habitat
In-field nesting habitat (i.e. Skylark plots)
Winter seed food

CPBell this is widely recognised and accepted.

As far as how much money is spent on agri-environment its not enough compared to the trillions of euros that has been spent on farming subsidy payments for production (which is already supported by market).

It's also very well recognised (and you really are on your own if you think its otherwise) that the land management options currently selected under agri-environment are money for old rope and don't provide those three basic ecological requirements.

You have a unique form of propaganda against the RSPB and BTO that I find bewildering and it seems an agenda to fill your own pocket with cash from research.

What we don't need is more research - it's clear now that we know what is needed to reverse declines, getting it done is the perrenial problem. Happy to have more research but can't see the urgent need for it versus real positive change for the better on the ground.

As a tax payer and for the vast amount of tax paying public isn't it time that more money in the CAP was made available under agri-environment schemes that are proven to work if delivered effectively instead of the amount being paid directly to farmers just to adhere to what essentially is already law?

That isn't about putting new money in - its about making the money in the pot go a lot further and even taking some out in these austere times. Making more Euros for Bustards to Buntings rather than the wateful and inefficent way its being spent currently.

Now under that concept the RSPB would loose out financially wouldn't they ? a decline in Single Farm Payment in favour of more money for more farmers in agri-environment, that would mean the RSPB's own estate would loose out from a decline in SFP.

Pretty brave but sensible if thats what they advocate - www.rspb.org.uk/capreform

Jos Stratford
Monday 15th August 2011, 16:25
As far as how much money is spent on agri-environment its not enough compared to the trillions of euros that has been spent on farming subsidy payments for production (which is already supported by market).

There are also huge sums being actively wasted on agricultural subsidies to boost production that is not even wanted. I have a plot of land which I manage specifically for wildlife, a considerable portion of which is meadow supporting numerous Skylarks, Whinchat, etc, plus Quail and Corncrake. For a number of years I could have applied for E.U. money to cut this grass, with no questions as to whether the grass is then used or dumped or whatever. Early in the spring this year, a neighbouring farmer asked if he could cut the grass and thereby claim the subsidies available.

I agreed, but the long and short of it is the cut never happened - once the details became apparent I could not allow this on my land. The scheme, eagerly taken up by many many farmers in this country, stipulates the cutting must happen before, if I remember, 1 July. Farmers can get penalised if they cut late. The result is most cutting happens in mid- to late June, just as everything is breeding. Then, as my neighbour would have done, they dump the grass, the large amounts cut not needed. If the farmer does rather more paperwork, for no additional benefit to him, he can designate the land as important for birds, but even then it must be cut by 1 August, so late or second broods still get chopped.

This is just E.U. madness - money being thrown into supporting farmers for doing what they don't want, nothing is produced and wildlife is destroyed.

simple
Monday 15th August 2011, 16:39
Jos couldnt agree more.

The problem is actually for farmers in this country those direct subsidies put them at a disadvantage in world markets.

The payments don't stop volatility, don't boost production and are of detriment to farm wildlife.

But agri-environment does boost numbers and is an effective way of spending money.

Bustards in Europe, Stone-curlews and Cirl Buntings in UK to name a few wouldn't be around if it wasn't for agri-environment and farmers efforts.

BTW - well done on those Skylarks!