Europe and Central Asia
11 Jun 2018

Reversing the skylark's decline in Sweden

A unique partnership between BirdLife Sweden and other environmental organizations, academia and business results in more sustainable agriculture and richer biodiversity in Sweden

© Shutterstock
By Stina Rigbäck and Maxime Paquin

Over the last 40 years, Europe’s skylarks have suffered a 50% decline due to the intensification of agriculture. In Sweden, this figure jumps to a staggering 75%. A report by BirdLife Sweden, WWF, SLU and Lantmännen shows that small, undrilled, ‘skylark plots’ in fields create the variation in landscape much needed by birds, and reverses the species’ decline. According to the report, the amount of breeding skylarks increases by up to 60% in fields where skylark plots can be found.


The massive decrease of skylarks is largely due to the development of agriculture with larger fields and denser growing crops. Swedish farmers around the country have started to create ‘skylark plots’, i.e. undrilled patches in fields where larks can land and find food, helping them to survive.


Skylark plots make a difference

The report shows that skylark plots have a significant positive effect on breeding skylarks. The results are based on three years of studies by Sönke Eggers and Jonas Josefsson, researchers at the Department of Ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science (SLU) in Uppsala. The study shows that the number of skylarks in fields with skylark plots increased with up to 60 percent – there are more breeding larks and more young probably survive. It also appears as if larks from neighboring fields are attracted to fields with skylark plots.

Sönke Eggers, researcher at SLU in Uppsala, said that “if we are to be able to use arable land without species disappearing and functional ecosystems be affected, researchers, farmers and nature conservers have to work together. Skylark plots are a good example of a measure that is grounded in research and which also has worked practically. Farmers are key to biodiversity in the farmland and it is important for us to contribute with new knowledge regarding efficient actions”.

Farmland covers 45% of the EU’s land area and these habitats are rocketing towards biodiversity oblivion. As we've written before, populations of European farmland birds are in freefall, down a staggering 55% in the last three decades. We are now at the lowest point since records began and farmland birds are one of the most threatened bird groups in Europe. The positive impact of the efforts of Swedish farmers is promising for skylarks in Sweden’s farmlands.


Photo: Skylark plot in Sweden © Niklas Aronsson, BirdLife Sweden


The skylark’s role for biodiversity

Skylarks, and birds in general, are a good indicator of the health of biodiversity in the entire landscape. It is important for the resilience of natural systems that there is a broad base of viable species and the ecosystem is of great importance for food production.

“We are happy to see the results of the report about skylark plots and we look forwards to turning the negative trend for the skylark. Together we can make a difference, without complicated methods, and the idea itself is that it’s both easy to get involved and easy to create skylark plots”, said Anette Strand, BirdLife Sweden's Director.


A biodiversity oblivion

In an article published in March 2018 by The Guardian, Dr Benoit Fontaine of France’s National Museum of Natural History is quoted saying that France lost a quarter of its skylarks in 15 years. Harriet Bradley, BirdLife Europe’s EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Officer, argues that “agriculture is by far the largest driver of biodiversity loss in the European Union”. Indeed, countless scientific studies  [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] prove that this decline is largely due to agricultural intensification driven by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its current subsidies system.


For more information, please contact BirdLife Sweden’s Director Anette Strand by email or by phone at +46 485-160-901.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.