We used extensive atlas and census data to assess trends in the distribution and population levels of birds on lowland farmland in Britain between the late 1960s and early 1990s. Many species of farmland birds have become less widespread or have declined in numbers, or both, but few have become more wide‐spread or have increased. Of the 28 species classified as farmland birds the distributions of 24 contracted between 1970 and 1990. Of the 18 farmland species for which it was possible to assess population change, 15 were less abundant in 1990 than in 1970. Seven of the species were estimated to have undergone population decreases of at least 50%. Farmland species showing the largest population declines tended also to show substantial range contractions. Farmland species underwent an appreciably larger contraction of distribution than species associated with any other habitat. Furthermore, farmland species tended to decrease in abundance, whereas woodland species tended to increase. Population declines among farmland birds became evident in the mid‐ to late 1970s, a period when several fundamental changes were taking place in British agricultural practices. These included a great reduction in the spring sowing of cereals, a simplification of crop rotations, increased use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilizers, and more‐intensive grassland management. We suggest that the declines of farmland bird species have been caused or aggravated by this pervasive intensification of agriculture. Existing research on declining farmland birds, however, indicates that there is no single mechanism underlying the population changes. We identify priorities for research, focusing mainly on relationships between bird populations and agricultural practices, but we also recognize a need for a better understanding of the role of predation.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 1995
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