Europe and Central Asia
6 Sep 2016

Green shoots of recovery for European farmland birds?

Corn bunting (c) Scotland John Carey
By Richard D. Gregory

New work led by BirdLife and the EBCC1, published recently in Conservation Letters, has shed light on the effectiveness of European policies and offers a way forward.  The new work was able to use high quality trend information from 25 EU countries on 39 farmland bird species over three decades, collated by the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (, and in doing so provides novel insights.

Specifically, Gamero et al. investigated whether the implementation of Agri-Environment Schemes (AESs) within CAP, the creation of Special Protection Area (SPAs) in agricultural habitats and the protection of Annex I species within the Birds Directive, were associated with positive population growth rates of farmland birds at a continental scale. The work showed encouragingly, and in contrast to some earlier studies, that AESs work - populations of resident and short-distance migrant birds increased with increasing AES coverage. The same held true for SPA coverage too; Annex I species had higher population growth rates with increasing SPAs compared to non-Annex I species, indicating that SPAs may be more effective in protecting mainly target species and those species spending most of their life cycle in the EU.  So as in earlier work, protection in the form of Annex I listing has a positive effect on bird populations and shows such nature policies to be effective. Finally, as has been shown before, agricultural intensification has a strong negative effect on bird populations across the board.  No surprise there then.

Taken together, the study shows the effectiveness of EU policies (derived from the CAP and Birds Directive) in improving the status of farmland birds in Europe, but critically, they are not sufficient to reverse the downward trends.  The authors suggest that the creation of more SPAs in agricultural areas in combination with a more widespread application of well-designed and well implemented AESs could contribute significantly to the recovery of farmland birds, and help the EU meet its biodiversity conservation goals.

More broadly, there are increasing calls for major reform to the CAP to better balance the needs of people and nature because the two go hand in hand. This new and important work will inform that debate.


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Gamero, A., Brotons, L., Brunner, A., Foppen, R., Fornasari, L., Gregory, R. D., Herrando, S., Hořák, D., Jiguet, F., Kmecl, P., Lehikoinen, A., Lindström, Å., Paquet, J.-Y., Reif, J., Sirkiä, P. M., Škorpilová, J., van Strien, A., Szép, T., Telenský, T., Teufelbauer, N., Trautmann, S., van Turnhout, C. A.M., Vermouzek, Z., Vikstrøm, T. & Voříšek, P. (2016) Tracking Progress Towards EU Biodiversity Strategy Targets: EU Policy Effects in Preserving its Common Farmland Birds. Conservation Letters. doi:10.1111/conl.12292

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