Brussels, 19 Jan 2004
The rise of intensive farming methods in Europe has led to a dramatic fall in the numbers of 24 common bird species, according to research carried out by leading European ornithologists.
Surveys carried out in 11 EU Member States, five accession countries and Norway and Switzerland reveal that the numbers of 24 of Europe's most familiar bird species have fallen by one third in just a quarter of a century. Across the continent and especially in northwest Europe, where the most intensive agricultural methods are practiced, birds such as skylarks, lapwings and yellowhammers are in decline, the report reveals.
The research was carried out by the European Bird Census Council, Birdlife International and the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The declines pinpointed by the report are most alarming in intensive farming countries such as the UK, where, between 1970 and 1999, skylark numbers declined by 52 per cent, the yellowhammer by 53 per cent and the corn bunting by 88 per cent.
Graham Wynne, the RSPB's chief executive appealed to the accession countries not to make the same mistake as his own country, where once common species like the tree sparrow and the lapwing have now disappeared from many areas. 'They should use EU financial support to maintain farming systems which respect environmental limits and leave room for wildlife,' he was reported as saying.
Mr Wynne laid part of the blame for the decline in bird numbers on subsidies paid to farmers under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, which have been traditionally designed to maximise output.
According to a report published last week, however, a new threat to bird populations could be posed by the growth of genetically modified herbicide tolerant (GMHT) crops. The UK's advisory committee on releases to the environment (ACRE) has warned that GMHT beet and spring-sown oilseed rape will reduce seed numbers because weeds will be destroyed. Many bird species depend on seeds for their survival.
Dr Mark Avery, director of conservation at the RSPB said: 'Farmland bird populations have been in freefall for more than three decades. The cultivation of GM beet and oilseed rape would drastically reduce seed numbers and put familiar birds such as the skylark and yellowhammer in even greater peril.'