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Farmers urged to help reverse skylark declines this Autumn

Last modified: 07 September 2009

Skylark plot at RSPB's Hope Farm

A skylark plot at the RSPB's Hope Farm

Image: Andy Hay

Farmers preparing to sow their overwinter crops this month are being urged to implement measures which would reverse the UK-wide decline in skylark numbers.

Skylarks are one of our countryside’s most iconic species and every farmer will recognise their unique bubbling trill as they hover high above fields. However populations have halved in the past 40 years and continue to fall.

Skylark plots have been developed by conservationists at the RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire and have been proven to increase breeding productivity by nearly 50 per cent.  Skylarks breeding at Hope Farm have more than trebled over the last 10 years.

The rectangular uncropped patches in cereal fields allow skylarks to forage when crops become too dense for them. And as well as helping wildlife the measure also makes economic sense as part of agri-environment schemes.

Chris Bailey, RSPB’s farm manager, said: “Skylark plots are very simple to create during Autumn sowing. You can either switch the drill off as you move or you can go back after you’ve sown a whole field and spray these very small patches out.

“Some farmers maybe be concerned about leaving land uncropped, however a field only needs two plots per hectare which means the total area of land taken out of production is minute - less than one third of one per cent.

“Under Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) farmers can receive five points per plot making this the best paying option in agri-environment schemes. It’s easy to fit into the farming system and it makes sound economic sense.

“This is a simple solution that farmers can put in place with the flick of a switch.”

The RSPB has produced a video, filmed at Hope Farm, which explains how farmers can create skylark plots. It went online this week and can be found at www.rspb.org.uk/skylarkplots

While farmers will often see skylarks on their farm in Spring, between late May and harvest-time the autumn sown cereal crops are too dense for the birds to nest. RSPB research shows that if 10 to 20 per cent of winter wheat crops feature skylark plots then the population decline will be reversed and the number of skylarks in our countryside will start to increase.

Farmers who want information on skylark plots can find contact details for their local agricultural advisor at www.rspb.org.uk/farming

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