Birdwatch News Archive
Ortolan Bunting, a bird of agricultural habitats on the Continent, has undergone a catastrophic decline in recent years. Photo: Andrej Chudy (commons.wikimedia.org).
300 million farmland birds lost in 30 years
Posted on: 18 Jul 2012
The weaknesses of Europe's current agricultural policies are brutally highlighted by a massive decrease in farmland bird species.
The latest scientific measurements of the intensification of European agriculture show a shocking decline of 52 per cent over 37 indicator bird species. Data collected by BirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council show that common farmland birds continue to decline across the EU, and that 300 million farmland birds have been lost since 1980.
The news was released last week, on the eve of a major civil society debate organised by the European Commission and the new Cypriot Presidency of the EU on Friday 13. Decision makers and civil society organisations discussed support for the so-called 'green reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)', amid growing fears that this latest reform might not deliver on its promises. Today’s news should have a serious sobering effect and remind all member states what is at stake.
The current CAP results in a range of activities that damage the environment, and especially biodiversity. Intensification, which is accompanied by over-use of chemicals and the loss of landscape – and therefore habitat – diversity, has been one of the main causes of destruction of many farmland ecosystems around Europe. Another is the abandonment of the concept of High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems, threatened by our inability to change the economics of these precious systems in rural areas. Birds are one of the best indicators available for measuring ecosystem health, and the newly published figures show that many species are at their lowest since monitoring began.
The Farmland Bird Indicator (FBI) combines the aggregate population trends of 37 species classified as farmland birds. Of these species, 22 are decreasing and only six are increasing, with a further six being stable and three having uncertain trends. Overall, the indicator shows a decline of 52 per cent since 1980. This equates to a loss of more than 300 million birds breeding in farmland over the last three decades, despite the best efforts of many nature-friendly farmers and conservation organisations.
The loss of such a large number of farmland birds matters because it also suggests a wider disregard for nature and its value: There is growing recognition that biodiversity loss can affect lives and economies directly and indirectly through the loss of a range of 'ecosystem services' upon which we all depend – these include the production of food and clean water, the control of climate and disease, the maintenance nutrient cycles and crop pollination, as well as the less tangible 'spiritual' and recreational benefits of a healthy natural world and clean atmosphere.
BirdLife Europe maintains that these depressing trends can only be reversed if the whole of the CAP is 'greened'. This would involve a 'bottom line' international compliance with all of the key pieces of environmental legislation, namely direct payments that are clearly linked to basic good agricultural practices and a strong rural development plans that contains measures to reward farmers that go beyond good practice and carry out specific management to improve the environment.
Such reforms would ensure the CAP provides much better value for money, a must at times of financial crisis such as this, when EU citizens expect even more that each euro is well spent.
BirdLife Europe hopes that this information will create a more sustainable agriculture policy that will ensure our long-term food security while respecting the environment.
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