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Individual study: Some, but not all, environmental stewardship options attract more farmland songbirds than conventional equivalents; a site comparison study in England

Published source details

Field R.H., Morris A.J., Grice P.V. & Cooke A.I. (2010) Evaluating the English Higher Level Stewardship scheme for farmland birds. Aspects of Applied Biology, 100, 59-68


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

Reduce management intensity on permanent grasslands for birds Bird Conservation

A replicated site comparison study on farms in three English regions (Field et al. 2010) found that grassland managed under Higher or Entry Level Stewardship Schemes with low or very low inputs was not used significantly more by seed-eating farmland songbirds than improved grassland or open rough grassland. Between 0.5 and 2 birds/ha were recorded on average on the different types of grassland. The stewardship grassland category also included land being maintained as semi-natural grassland under the schemes. It is not clear how many sites of the different management types were used in the analysis. Surveys were done in the summers of 2008 and 2009 on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands or the Cotswolds and on 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship.

 

Manage hedges to benefit birds Bird Conservation

A replicated site comparison study on farms in two English regions (Field et al. 2010) found that summer yellowhammer numbers were significantly higher in hedges under environmental stewardship management than in conventionally managed hedges. On East Anglian farms, this was true for both Entry Level Stewardship and Higher Level Stewardship hedge management options (estimated >1.5 yellowhammers/m in Higher Level Stewardship hedges compared to <0.5 yellowhammers/m in conventional hedges). On farms in the Cotswolds, UK, it was only true for hedges managed as ‘high environmental value hedges’ under Higher Level Stewardship (estimated 0.5 yellowhammers/m), while hedges managed under Entry Level Stewardship did not have more yellowhammers than conventional hedges (estimated <0.2 yellowhammers/m). Hedgerows managed under Entry Level Stewardship are cut every two or three years in winter only. Surveys were carried out in the summers of 2008 and 2009, on up to 30 Higher Level Stewardship farms and 15 non-stewardship farms in East Anglia, and up to 19 Higher Level Stewardship and 8 non-stewardship farms in the Cotswolds. This study also discusses several other interventions.

Create skylark plots for bird conservation Bird Conservation

A replicated site comparison study on farms in three English regions (Field et al. 2010) found that skylark plots were well used (1-3 seed-eating farmland songbirds/ha) but did not have significantly more birds in than crop fields or fallow plots. Surveys were carried out on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands or the Cotswolds and 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship.

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

A replicated site comparison study on farms in three English regions (Field et al. 2010) found that in two of the three regions Higher Level Stewardship fallow plots for ground-nesting birds had significantly fewer seed-eating farmland songbirds than conventional crop fields during summer. On farms in East Anglia and the Cotswolds, there were approximately 2.5 birds/ha on crops compared to 1 bird/ha on fallow plots. However, in a third region, the West Midlands, more seed-eating farmland birds were recorded on fallow plots than in crop fields (1.5 birds/ha on fallow plots compared to <0.5 birds/ha on crops). The group of birds analysed included tree sparrow Passer montanus and corn bunting Emberiza calandra, but not grey partridge Perdix perdix. Surveys were carried out in the summers of 2008 and 2009, on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands or the Cotswolds and on 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship.

 

Create skylark plots Farmland Conservation

A replicated site comparison study in winter 2007-2008 and summers 2008 and 2009 on farms in three English regions (Field et al. 2010) found that skylark plots were well used (1-3 seed-eating farmland songbirds/ha) but did not have significantly more birds than crop fields or fallow plots. Surveys were carried out on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands or the Cotswolds and 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship. Flush transects were used to record as many birds as possible.

 

Leave overwinter stubbles Bird Conservation

A replicated site comparison study on farms in two English regions (Field et al. 2010) found more seed-eating farmland songbirds on overwinter stubbles managed under Entry Level Stewardship than on non-stewardship stubbles in the West Midlands (average 6 birds/ha on Entry Level Stewardship compared with 2.5 bird/ha on conventionally managed stubble). This difference was not significant for farms in East Anglia (3.5 birds/ha on Entry Level Stewardship stubble compared with 0.7 birds/ha on conventionally managed stubble fields). Overwinter stubble fields in stewardship schemes have restrictions on herbicide use and cultivation times. The survey was carried out in winter 2007-2008 on 27 farms with Higher Level Stewardship, 13 farms with Entry Level Stewardship and 14 with no environmental stewardship, in East Anglia or the West Midlands. The group of birds analysed included tree sparrow Passer montanus and corn bunting Emberiza calandra, but not grey partridge Perdix perdix.  More of these birds used overwinter stubbles on Higher Level Stewardship farms than on Entry Level Stewardship farms. There were 5 birds/ha compared to 2 birds/ha on average, on stubble fields in Higher Level Stewardship and Entry Level Stewardship farms respectively.

 

Plant grass buffer strips/margins around arable or pasture fields for birds Bird Conservation

A replicated site comparison study on farms in three English regions (Field et al. 2010) found that hedges alongside grass field margins ‘floristically enhanced’ under Higher Level Stewardship had more yellowhammers (estimate of 0.4 birds/m) compared to hedges without a grass margin (estimated 0.2 birds/m). Hedges alongside unenhanced grass margins, either conventionally managed or managed under Entry Level Stewardship, did not have more yellowhammers. Surveys were carried out on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands or the Cotswolds and on 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship.

 

Manage hedgerows to benefit wildlife (includes no spray, gap-filling and laying) Farmland Conservation

A replicated site comparison study on farms in two English regions (Field et al. 2010) found that summer yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella numbers were significantly higher in hedges under environmental stewardship management than in conventionally managed hedges. On East Anglian farms, this was true for both Entry Level Stewardship and Higher Level Stewardship hedge management options (estimated >1.5 yellowhammers/m in Higher Level Stewardship hedges compared to <0.5 yellowhammers/m in conventional hedges). On Cotswolds farms it was only true for hedges managed as ‘high environmental value hedges’ under Higher Level Stewardship (estimated 0.5 yellowhammers/m), while hedges managed under Entry Level Stewardship did not have more yellowhammers than conventional hedges (estimated <0.2 yellowhammers/m). Hedgerows managed under Entry Level Stewardship are cut every two or three years in winter only. Surveys were carried out in the summers of 2008 and 2009, on up to 30 Higher Level Stewardship farms and 15 non-stewardship farms in East Anglia, and up to 19 Higher Level Stewardship and 8 non-stewardship farms in the Cotswolds.

 

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

A replicated site comparison study in 2008 and 2009 on farms in three regions in England (Field et al. 2010) found that in two of the three regions, Higher Level Stewardship fallow plots for ground-nesting birds had significantly fewer seed-eating farmland songbirds than conventional crop fields during summer. On farms in East Anglia and the Cotswolds, there were approximately 2.5 birds/ha on crops compared to 1 bird/ha on fallow plots. However, in a third region, the West Midlands, more seed-eating farmland birds were recorded on fallow plots than in crop fields (1.5 birds/ha on fallow plots compared to <0.5 birds/ha on crops). The group of birds analysed included tree sparrow Passer montanus and corn bunting Emberiza calandra, but not grey partridge Perdix perdix. Surveys were carried out in the summers of 2008 and 2009, on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands or the Cotswolds and on 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship.

Leave overwinter stubbles Farmland Conservation

A replicated site comparison study in winter 2007-2008 on farms in East Anglia and the West Midlands, England (Field et al. 2010b) (same study as (Field et al. 2010a)) found more seed-eating farmland songbirds on overwinter stubbles managed under Entry Level Stewardship than on non-stewardship stubbles in the West Midlands (average 6.0 birds/ha on Entry Level Stewardship vs 2.5 birds/ha on conventionally managed stubble). This difference was not significant for farms in East Anglia (3.5 birds/ha on Entry Level Stewardship stubble vs 0.7 birds/ha on conventionally managed stubble fields). Overwinter stubble fields in stewardship schemes have restrictions on herbicide use and cultivation times. The group of birds analysed included tree sparrow Passer montanus and corn bunting Emberiza calandra, but not grey partridge Perdix perdix. More of these birds used overwinter stubbles on Higher Level Stewardship farms than on Entry Level Stewardship farms. There were 5 birds/ha compared to 2 birds/ha on average, on stubble fields on Higher Level Stewardship and Entry Level Stewardship farms respectively. The survey was carried out in winter 2007-2008 on 27 farms with Higher Level Stewardship, 13 farms with Entry Level Stewardship and 14 with no environmental stewardship.

 

Plant wild bird seed or cover mixture Bird Conservation

A replicated site comparison study on farms in two English regions (Field et al. 2010) found that more seed-eating farmland songbirds (including tree sparrow and corn bunting) were found on Higher Level Stewardship wild bird seed mix sites than on non-stewardship game cover crops in East Anglia (6-11 birds/ha on wild bird seed mix, compared to <0.5 birds/ha on game cover), but not in the West Midlands (2-4 birds/ha on both types). The survey was carried out in winter 2007-2008 on 27 farms with Higher Level Stewardship, 13 farms with Entry Level Stewardship and 14 with no environmental stewardship, in East Anglia or the West Midlands.

 

Reduce management intensity on permanent grasslands (several interventions at once) Farmland Conservation

A replicated site comparison study in 2008 and 2009 on farms in three regions in England (Field et al. 2010) found that grassland managed under Higher or Entry Level Stewardship Schemes with low or very low inputs was not used significantly more by seed-eating farmland songbirds than improved grassland or open rough grassland. Between 0.5 and 2 birds/ha were recorded on average on the different types of grassland. The stewardship grassland category also included land being maintained as semi-natural grassland under the schemes. It is not clear how many sites of the different management types were used in the analysis. Surveys were done in the summers of 2008 and 2009 on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands or the Cotswolds and on 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship.

 

Plant wild bird seed or cover mixture Farmland Conservation

A replicated site comparison study in winter 2007-2008 on farms in East Anglia and the West Midlands, England (Field et al. 2010b) (same study as (Field et al. 2010a)) found that more seed-eating farmland songbirds (including tree sparrow Passer montanus and corn bunting Emberiza calandra) were found on Higher Level Stewardship wild bird seed mix sites (6-11 birds/ha) than on non-stewardship game cover crops (<0.5 birds/ha) in East Anglia, but not in the West Midlands (2-4 birds/ha on both types). The survey was carried out on 27 farms with Higher Level Stewardship, 13 farms with Entry Level Stewardship and 14 with no environmental stewardship.

 

Plant grass buffer strips/margins around arable or pasture fields Farmland Conservation

A replicated site comparison study in three regions in England, UK (Field et al. 2010) found that hedges alongside wildflower-rich grass field margins (‘floristically enhanced’ margins) under Higher Level Stewardship had more yellowhammers Emberiza citrinella (estimated 0.4 birds/m) compared to hedges without a grass margin (estimated 0.2 birds/m). Hedges alongside unenhanced grass margins, either conventionally managed or managed under Entry Level Stewardship, did not have more yellowhammers. Surveys were carried out on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands and the Cotswolds and on 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship.

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

A replicated site comparison study in 2008 and 2009 on farms in three regions in England (Field et al. 2010) found that land managed under Higher Level Stewardship grassland creation/restoration options was used significantly more by seed-eating farmland songbirds than improved grassland in two of the three regions. The strongest difference was in the Cotswolds, where almost 4 birds/ha were recorded on restored grassland, compared to around 1 bird/ha on improved grassland. In East Anglia, there were not more birds on Higher Level Stewardship creation/restoration grassland than on improved grassland. Surveys were done in the summers of 2008 and 2009 on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands or the Cotswolds and on 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship.