Impact of the Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme on winter bird densities on farmland in East Anglia and the West Midlands, England

  • Published source details Bradbury R.B., Browne S.J., Stevens D.K. & Aebischer N.J. (2004) Five-year evaluation of the impact of the Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme on birds. Ibis, 171-180


In 1998, the UK government introduced the Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme in two areas of lowland English farmland, the West Midlands (mainly mixed arable and livestock systems) and East Anglia (predominantly arable). This study evaluated the impact of the scheme on wintering birds by comparing their densities on participating and control farms within the two areas.

The first agreements under the scheme began (after the harvest) in autumn 1998, and ran for five years. An array of options were available to participating farmers, including: overwintered stubbles; undersown spring cereals; crop margins with no summer insecticide ('conservation headlands'); grass margins, beetle banks and uncropped wildlife strips; and wildlife seed mixtures.

During the winter of 1998/99 (i.e. shortly after option implementation), 18 scheme farms and 19 control farms in East Anglia, and 19 scheme and 18 control farms in the West Midlands, were surveyed (once during October-December and once during January-March) for birds. Farms were resurveyed during the winter of 2002/03, at the end of agreements. Owing to the rarity of many species, most were grouped into ecological or taxonomic guilds for analysis.

At the farm scale, no significant effect of the scheme was detected in East Anglia (where the availability of set-aside and features managed for game in the wider landscape was higher). In the West Midlands, increases in skylark Alauda arvensis densities between 1998/99 and 2002/03 were significantly greater on scheme farms (c.80%) than on control farms (c.10%). For all other species/guilds, there were no significant changes in density between the two survey periods, but average densities of 'granivorous passerines', 'raptors', 'wagtails/pipits' and 'miscellaneous insectivores' were all significantly higher on scheme farms.

At the field scale, 'granivorous passerines' (the key target group) occurred at significantly higher densities on stubble fields than on other arable fields in both pilot areas, as did skylarks, 'wagtails/pipits', 'thrushes' and 'snipes'. 'Granivorous passerines' also occurred at significantly higher densities on fields with wildlife seed mixture than on those without (in both areas), with a similar response also observed for skylarks (in East Anglia) and for 'miscellaneous insectivores' and 'plovers' (in the West Midlands).

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