(i) The importance of farmland for wildlife.
Farmland accounts for approximately 70 per cent
of the total land area in the UK. Although highly managed the
farmland ecosystem supports a wide variety of wildlife, in many
cases it is richer in species than the "natural forest"
that it originally replaced. The length of time over which arable
farming has occurred has also allowed wildlife to adapt to these
A review of bird species in Europe published
by BirdLife International in 1994 found that there were 195 species
of conservation concern which represents 38 per cent of all European
birds (Tucker et al. 1994). Of these, 116 utilise lowland
farmland for feeding and breeding, and some are highly dependent.
In Birds of Conservation Concern the UK's leading non-governmental
bird conservation organisations
found that of the 36 species of greatest conservation concern
15 depend on lowland farmland habitats.
Farmland is also very important for species
of arthropods and plants. Such species are particularly important
for birds and mammals as they form the basis for the food chain,
for example many farmland birds feed on seeds produced by annual
plants that occur in arable and grass fields, or on insects associated
with those plants.
(ii) Declines of wildlife on farmland
Many of the species that are dependent on arable
land have suffered dramatic declines in the past 25 years. The
decline of farmland birds has been well documented and the Government
has committed itself to conserving the population of 19 species
which appear on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).
Farmland mammal species, such as brown hare
and the pipistrelle bat have also undergone declines and appear
in the UK BAP. There have also been serious declines in both numbers
and diversity of insects on arable land. The Game Conservancy
Trust recorded 4.2 per cent decline per annum between 1972 and
1990, in 700 species of cereal arthropods, and nearly 50 per cent
of species of wild bee are considered to be under threat. Species
of insect, bee, moth and ground beetles associated with arable
land feature in the UK BAP.
Plants of arable land have also dramatically
declined in the past 40 years, indeed a few species have become
extinct, for example corncockle and thoro-wax. More arable plant
species have gone extinct compared to plant species in any other
habitat. The plant composition of arable land has also changed
with annual grass plants, such as blackgrass and sterile brome,
becoming more common over the past 2030 years, whilst broad-leaved
annuals have declined.
(iii) Causes of declines of farmland wildlife
Changes in the nature of arable production over
the past 30 years, fuelled by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
and technological advancement, are thought to have caused these
declines. These developments have changed and degraded the environmental
aspect of the arable ecosystem and wildlife has not been able
to adapt. In particular:
the loss of over-wintered stubbles;
the loss of mixed farming;
the increased use of pesticides and
are thought to be the most significant changes that
have resulted in the loss of habitat and breakdown of the food
4 June 1998