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Stubble fields can boost threatened birds


With harvest currently under way across the country farmers are being urged to give a helping hand to birds by leaving stubble over the winter.

While some farmers will be planning to sow a new crop in the ground in autumn, others will be waiting until the spring to re-sow. RSPB farmland advisors are asking these farmers to plan their ploughing schedule with wildlife in mind.

Its the busiest time of year for cereal farmers, but they will already be thinking ahead to next year, said Richard Winspear, RSPB Farmland Advisor.

Many farmers will be planning to follow up this years crop with a spring crop. If they leave their stubble until next year instead of ploughing up the land then they will be providing a valuable winter foraging ground for seed eating birds like tree sparrows, yellowhammers, skylarks and game birds.

Stubble fields are like giant bird tables in our countryside. Winter food sources are vital if we are going to reverse the historic decline in farmland birds.

A ten year study has shown that in areas where 10 to 20 per cent of land was left as stubble over winter, skylarks and yellowhammers have not declined. But in other areas their numbers have continued to drop. Farmers in environmental stewardship may only need to provide half this area of stubble to halt farmland bird declines.

As well as being an option in the Entry Level Scheme (ELS) for farmers, leaving over winter stubble will also help farmers to support the industrys Campaign for the Farmed Environment. The Campaign, which has the RSPBs full backing, is urging farmers to put in place voluntary measures, including over winter stubble, field margins and skylark plots, to help provide food and breeding habitats for threatened countryside wildlife.

Andrea Graham, NFU Countryside Adviser, stresses how farmers can use stubbles to support the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.


She said: Its great that overwinter stubbles have already proved to be a popular option. Farmers are enthusiastically taking up the new extended winter stubble option in ELS, which keeps the wildlife benefits of the stubble for longer and allows farmers to control blackgrass.

But if entering into a formal stewardship agreement isnt for you then how about considering the campaigns Voluntary Measures for keeping stubbles?

While leaving stubble is ideal for farmers growing spring crops, an alternative for those growing autumn sown crops is to sow wild bird seed mixtures in field margins.

1.      The Farmland Bird Index lists the 19 species of bird which rely on farmland for their survival. Of these 9 are also on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List which has been drawn up by the leading governmental and non-governmental conservation organisations in the UK and features those species facing a worrying decline in numbers. These include the corn bunting, yellowhammer, skylark and grey partridge.

2.      The Campaign for the Farmed Environment was launched in November last year and is backed by industry groups, conservationists and statutory bodies including the NFU, CLA, Defra, Environment Agency, GWCT, RSPB, FWAG, LEAF, AIC, AICC and CAAV. Its aim is to advice farmers in the three main areas of farmland birds, farm wildlife and resource protection. For more details visit

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