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Individual study: Agri-environment schemes in England 2009 A review of results and effectiveness

Published source details

Natural England (2009) Agri-environment schemes in England 2009 A review of results and effectiveness. Natural England report.


This study is summarised as evidence for the intervention(s) shown on the right. The icon shows which synopsis it is relevant to.

Maintain upland heath/moor Bird Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found studies that concluded that Environmentally Sensitive Area management prescriptions were having positive effects on moorland bird populations in Dartmoor Environmentally Sensitive Areas, UK. However, a study warned that localised problems such as overgrazing, burning or scrub encroachment were negatively affecting species such as tree pipit Anthus trivialis, whinchat Saxicola rubetra and ring ouzel Turdus torquatus. This review also examines several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.

 

Raise water levels in ditches or grassland Bird Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found studies that suggested more expensive agri-environment scheme options for wetland habitats (such as controlling water levels) were more effective at providing good habitat for waders than easier-to-implement options. This review also examines several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.

 

Leave uncropped, cultivated margins or plots, including lapwing and stone curlew plots Bird Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found that spring and summer fallows provided nesting habitats for northern lapwings Vanellus vanellus, with 40% of fallow plots used by lapwings and breeding suspected on 25%. In addition, the number of breeding pairs of Eurasian thick-knees (stone curlews) Burhinus oedicnemus in southern England increased from 63 in 1997 to 103 in 2005 following the implementation of a Country Stewardship Scheme ‘special project’, which included the provision of fallow plots. This review also examines several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.

 

Leave overwinter stubbles Bird Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found that there was a 146% increase in cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus territory density on land under a  Countryside Stewardship Scheme ‘special project’, which (amongst other interventions) increased the amount of weedy overwinter stubbles in the target area between 1992 and 2003. In addition, the national population increased from 319 to nearly 700 pairs over the same period. Generally, the review found high densities of seed-eating songbirds and Eurasian skylarks Alauda arvensis on stubbles and wild bird seed or cover mix (see ‘Plant wild bird seed or cover mixture’), compared to other land uses, and a survey in the winter of 2007-8 found the highest densities of skylarks on stubble fields, compared with other agri-environment schemes options. This review also examines several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.

 

Leave headlands in fields unsprayed (conservation headlands) Bird Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found evidence (including in studies reviewed in this section) that grey partridge Perdix perdix broods were significantly larger in cereal fields with a 6 m unsprayed margin around them, compared to conventional fields. This review also examines several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.

 

Reduce grazing intensity Bird Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) describes a case study of a farm on Exmoor, Devon, which found that three species increased on the farm from 1993-2003, following a reduction in grazing intensity on moorland areas (Eurasian skylark Alauda arvensis increased from none to 13 birds; Eurasian linnet Carduelis cannabina from none to nine birds; common stonechat Saxicola torquata from none to one territory). One species (meadow pipit Anthus pratensis) showed little change (nine birds vs. eight) and another (northern wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe) declined slightly, from one territory to none. This review also examines several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.

 

Raise water levels in ditches or grassland Farmland Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found studies that suggested more expensive agri-environment scheme options for wetland habitats (such as controlling water levels) were more effective at providing good habitat for wading birds than easier-to-implement options.

Leave overwinter stubbles Farmland Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found a 146% increase in cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus territory density on land under a Countryside Stewardship scheme ‘special project’, which (amongst other interventions) increased the amount of weedy overwinter stubbles in the target area between 1992 and 2003. In addition, the national population increased from 319 to nearly 700 pairs over the same period (Wotton et al. 2000, Peach et al. 2002, Wotton et al. 2004). Generally, the review found high densities of seed-eating songbirds and Eurasian skylark Alauda arvensis on stubbles and wild bird seed or cover mix, compared to other land uses, and a survey in the winter of 2007-2008 found the highest densities of skylark on stubble fields, compared with other agri-environment scheme options (Field et al. in press). The review also stated that overwinter stubbles deliver benefits for brown hare Lepus europaeus, but did not provide further details.

Additional references:

Wotton S.R., Langston R.H.W., Gibbons D.W. & Pierce A.J. (2000) The status of the Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus in the UK and the Channel Islands in 1998. Bird Study, 47, 138-146.

Wotton S., Rylands K., Grice P., Smallshire S. & Gregory R. (2004) The status of the Cirl Bunting in Britain and the Channel Islands in 2003. British Birds, 97, 376-384.

Field R.H., Morris A.J., Grice P.V. & Cooke A. (In press) Winter use of seed-bearing crops by birds within the English Environmental Stewardship Scheme. Ibis.

Maintain upland heath/moorland Farmland Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) reported a study that concluded that Environmentally Sensitive Area management prescriptions were having positive effects on moorland bird populations in the Dartmoor Environmentally Sensitive Area, Devon (Geary 2002). However, the same study warned that localized problems such as overgrazing, burning or scrub encroachment were negatively affecting birds such as tree pipit Anthus trivialis, whinchat Saxicola rubetra and ring ouzel Turdus torquatus. One study from the north of England (reported in (Calladine et al. 2002)) found that reduced grazing intensity benefited black grouse Tetrao tetrix. The review also describes a case study that found that three bird species increased on a farm in Exmoor, Devon from 1993 to 2003, following a reduction in grazing intensity on moorland areas (Eurasian skylark Alauda arvensis increased from zero to 13 birds, Eurasian linnet Carduelis cannabina from zero to nine birds, common stonechat Saxicola torquata from zero to one territory). One species (meadow pipit A. pratensis) showed little change (nine birds vs eight) and another (northern wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe) declined slightly, from one territory to none. In the same case study, heath vegetation increased from 9% to 52%, bent-fescue/rough acid grassland decreased from 89% to 39%, mean heather cover increased significantly from 5% to 29% and average dwarf shrub height increased from 5 cm to 23 cm.

Additional reference:

Geary S. (2002) Exmoor moorland breeding bird survey 2002. RSPB, Exeter.

Leave cultivated, uncropped margins or plots (includes 'lapwing plots') Farmland Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found that spring and summer fallows provided nesting habitats for northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus, with 40% of fallow plots used by lapwings and breeding suspected on 25% plots (Chamberlain et al. 2009). In addition, the number of breeding pairs of Eurasian thick-knee (stone curlew) Burhinus oedicnemus in southern England increased from 63 in 1997 to 103 in 2005 following the implementation of a Countryside Stewardship Scheme ‘special project’ which included the provision of fallow plots. One study (Walker et al. 2007b) found that 264 plant species typically found in disturbed or arable habitats, including 34 rare and uncommon arable plants, were recorded in three agri-environment scheme options: uncropped cultivated margins (highest diversity), spring fallow, conservation headlands (lowest diversity).

Pay farmers to cover the costs of bird conservation measures Bird Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found that options and schemes varied in effectiveness. Breeding populations of some nationally rare birds increased after the implementation of options on arable farms (cirl bunting pairs increased by 130%, Eurasian thick-knee pairs by 87%) and a case study from a single farm found that grey partridge numbers increased by more than 250%/year; corn buntings by over 100%/year and Eurasian skylarks by 71%/year following the implementation of a number of different options. Productivity of some species was found to be higher on agri-environment scheme farms, which also provided key habitats. However, there was little evidence for any population-level beneficial effects of Entry Level Stewardship designation on widespread birds such as skylarks or yellowhammers E. citrinella. Several studies reviewed argued that most agri-environment scheme schemes were not well targeted to provide habitat for waders, although other studies argued that wader populations had declined less in regions designated as agri-environment schemes than in the country overall. The effects of individual options on birds are discussed in the relevant sections.

Plant wild bird seed or cover mixture Bird Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found that high densities of seed-eating songbirds and Eurasian skylarks were found on land planted with wild bird seed or cover mix and on stubble fields (see ‘Leave overwinter stubbles’). A survey in 2007-2008 found that densities of seed-eating songbirds were highest on wild bird seed or cover mix, compared to other agri-environment schemes options. This review also examines several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.

 

Plant wild bird seed or cover mixture Farmland Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found that high densities of seed-eating songbirds and Eurasian skylark Alauda arvensis were found on land planted with wild bird seed or cover mix and on stubble fields. A survey in 2007-2008 found that densities of seed-eating songbirds were highest on wild bird seed or cover mix, compared to other agri-environment scheme options.

 

Pay farmers to cover the cost of conservation measures (as in agri-environment schemes) Farmland Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found that options and schemes varied in effectiveness for farmland wildlife. Breeding populations of some nationally rare birds increased after the implementation of options on arable farms (cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus pairs increased by 130%, Eurasian thick-knee (stone curlew) Burhinus oedicnemus pairs increased by 87%). A case study from a single farm found that grey partridge Perdix perdix numbers increased by more than 250%/year, corn bunting Miliaria calandra by over 100%/year and Eurasian skylark Alauda arvensis by 71%/year following the implementation of a number of different options. Productivity of some bird species was found to be higher on agri-environment scheme farms, which also provided key habitats. However, there was little evidence for any population-level beneficial effects of Entry Level Stewardship designations on widespread birds such as skylark or yellowhammer E. citrinella. Several of the studies reviewed argued that most agri-environment schemes were not well targeted to provide habitat for wading birds (Dutt 2004), although other studies argued that wader populations had declined less in regions designated as Environmentally Sensitive Areas than in the country overall (Wilson et al. 2005). Implementation of agri-environment schemes was also shown to benefit mammals, such as brown hare Lepus europaeus, with significantly higher densities on farms with agri-environment schemes than control farms in East Anglia. However in the West Midlands, hare densities were similar between agri-environment scheme farms and control farms (Browne & Aebischer 2003).

Additional references:

Dutt P. (2004). An assessment of habitat condition of coastal and floodplain grazing marsh within agri-environment schemes. RSPB report to Defra, London.

Wilson A. M., Vickery J. A., Brown A., Langston R. H. W., Smallshire D., Wotton S. & Vanhinsbergh D. (2005) Changes in the numbers of breeding waders on lowland wet grasslands in England and Wales between 1982 and 2002. Bird Study 52, 55-69.

Leave headlands in fields unsprayed (conservation headlands) Farmland Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found evidence that grey partridge Perdix perdix broods were significantly larger in cereal fields with a 6 m unsprayed margin around them, compared to conventional fields. Two studies showed that more butterflies (Lepidoptera) were found in conservation headlands than in pesticide-sprayed areas (Dover 1997, Longley & Sotherton 1997). One study (Walker et al. 2007b) found that 264 plant species typically found in disturbed or arable habitats, including 34 rare and uncommon arable plants, were recorded in three agri-environment scheme options: uncropped cultivated margins (highest diversity), spring fallow, conservation headlands (lowest diversity).

Additional reference:

Longley M. & Sotherton N.W. (1997) Factors determining the effects of pesticides upon butterflies inhabiting arable farmland. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 61, 1-12.

Restore/create species-rich, semi-natural grassland Farmland Conservation

A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found evidence that plant diversity was higher on Countryside Stewardship scheme plots sown with a chalk grassland mix than on Environmentally Sensitive Area sites sown with a basic grass mix (CABI 2003). However the same study also reported that few of the sown sites were classed as Biodiversity Action Plan habitats. One study found that few sites that had undergone arable reversion for at least five years could be classed as lowland chalk/limestone (calcareous) grassland or lowland meadow under Biodiversity Action Plan definitions (Kirkham et al. 2006). Instead many of the sites were comparable to semi-improved grassland.

Additional references:

CABI (2003) Chalk Grassland: Enhancement of plant and invertebrate diversity through the use of Environmental Land Management Schemes. Defra project report BD1414, London.

Kirkham F.W., Davis D., Fowbert J.A., Hooke D., Parkin A.B. & Sherwood A.J. (2006) Evaluation of arable reversion agreements in the Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme. Defra project report MA0105/RMP 1982, London.