Bird conservation and agri-environment schemes

Subsidized intensive agriculture has caused severe biodiversity loss, including among bird populations. ‘Greening’ of agricultural policy in the European Union through agri-environment schemes has helped to reduce and reverse losses, and deliver benefits for other taxonomic groups. However, success has only been apparent where management measures have been founded on a strong evidence base, improved by adaptive management, are well targeted, backed by advisory support to land managers, and delivered on a sufficient scale to have a measurable population-level effect. Such cases remain the exception rather than the rule. By 2012, the farmland bird populations of Europe numbered 300 million individuals fewer than in 1980, and the growing pressure on agri-environment measures to deliver a wide range of ecosystem service benefits in addition to biodiversity conservation could risk diluting their effectiveness further. Future research needs to determine the extent to which greater benefits can be achieved by adopting a landscape-scale, rather than a field-by-field or farm-by-farm approach to agri-environment management, and to test the extent to which measures focused on bird or wider biodiversity conservation deliver wide ecosystem service benefits, and vice versa. What is needed more than anything is a fundamental shift in focus of public subsidy of agriculture to the delivery of public benefits, including nature conservation. The latest round of Common Agricultural Policy reform in 2013 has been the latest in a succession of disappointments in this respect, and a post-industrial agriculture which recognizes the wide public benefits of agricultural management remains elusive.

Jeremy D. Wilson (RSPB)
Richard B. Bradbury (RSPB)


Wilson, J.D., Bradbury, R.B. 2015. Agri-environment schemes and the future of farmland bird conservation. In: Wildlife Conservation on Farmland. Eds: D.W. Macdonald & R.E. Feber. Oxford University Press.

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  • © Joe Pell