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Birds: Conservation

Volume 503: debated on Thursday 14 January 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he plans to take to increase numbers of farmland birds. (310059)

Agri-environment schemes, such as Environmental Stewardship, are one of a number of measures aimed at helping to meet DEFRA's target of reversing the decline in farmland birds by 2020.

Following recommendations from the Review of Progress of Environmental Stewardship (2008), we plan to improve the scheme's delivery of farmland bird habitats by introducing new options, such as extended overwintered stubble, and modifying existing ones. We are also promoting better uptake of options of specific benefit to farmland birds through increased training and information provision for Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) through, for example, Natural England's ELS Training and Information Programme. We have also improved the targeting for Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) for which farmland birds are a key priority and the subject of a number of specific projects promoting HLS across England, such as the South West Farmland Birds Initiative. Implementation of the review recommendations has already begun and further changes will be implemented during 2010.

Natural England has a target to increase the total area of agricultural land in England being managed under agri-environment schemes to 70 per cent. by March 2011. This, in itself, should help deliver increased habitats for farmland birds. Natural England also has a target in 2009-10 to deliver a further 4,100ha of key arable farmland bird options through Environmental Stewardship—a 20 per cent. increase above the March 2008 baseline.

The industry-led voluntary Campaign for the Farmed Environment should help to retain and exceed the environmental benefits provided by former set-aside land. The campaign promotes activities by farmers and land managers to secure environmental benefits in relation to farmland birds, resource protection and biodiversity provision. It includes a number of targets for June 2012 which will be of direct benefit to farmland birds, such as doubling the uptake of ELS in-field options, covering 40,000 hectares on top of current levels, and increasing uncropped land by 20,000 hectares from January 2008 levels. Natural England has also recently produced a joint leaflet—Farming for Birds—with the campaign and other partner organisations, such as the RSPB, aimed at improving ELS option selection and location in order to help increase farmland bird populations.


Natural England targets can be found in Natural England corporate plan (2009-12)—70 per cent. target under 3.2.2 and the 4,100 hectares target (1.2.1)

Campaign for Farmed Environment targets can be found in the campaign's Memorandum of Understanding (copies laid in House Libraries).