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Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (A23(a))

How much does it cost to deliver birds through agri-environment funding?

  The increase in bird populations in response to agri-environment funding depends on a number of factors including: the species of bird and its habitat requirements, the current state of the population, the threats facing it and the relative expense of adopting conservation management. It is not possible to give specific costings in terms of £/bird but the two case studies below illustrate some costings for different schemes.

  In addition to facilitating the increase in bird populations, agri-environment funding provides a number of other benefits including: population and diversity increases in plant and invertebrate communities, farm diversification opportunities, local employment and landscape improvements. Further examples of the benefits to rural communities provided by nature conservation projects can be found in our publication "Conservation Works".

Case study: Cirl Bunting

  A recent study carried out by RSPB on cirl buntings in Devon has demonstrated the success of Countryside Stewardship (CS) in reversing the decline of farmland birds.

  By 1989 numbers of cirl buntings, a once common farmland bird had declined to only 114 pairs, prompting the creation of a special project within CS to try and reverse this decline. The first agreements were signed in 1992, and to date 63 agreements have been signed.

  Research demonstrates that cirl bunting numbers have increased by 83 per cent on land entered into CS between 1992 and 1998 compared with just 2 per cent of adjacent countryside[2], resulting in a population of 453 pairs by 1998.

  CS provides both annual management payments based on the profit forgone and capital payments. In 1999-2000 the total annual CS payments averaged £5,270 per farm (average size 143ha). As well as benefiting cirl buntings and other wildlife the scheme has also helped enhance business viability and farmers optimism about the future.[3]

Case Study: Breeding wading birds

  The Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme offers payments to landowners in return for maintaining or enhancing the landscape, biodiversity and historic value of the land. Table 1 shows the results of a study carried out by RSPB comparing the success of the ESA scheme and RSPB reserves at conserving breeding waders.[4] These figures give an indication of the return on agri-environment funding. It is interesting to note that while private farmers successfully delivered target birds on their agreement land, areas receiving additional conservation expertise under RSPB management usually delivered more birds per pound. This demonstrates the benefits of equipping land managers with conservation advice and training, as proposed under the Curry Report's recommendation for a national training and advice programme.

  Once again, the bird population increases will not be the only return on the investment made. Visitors to RSPB nature reserves are estimated to spend a total of £12 million in local economies each year as a result of visiting reserves. This spending is estimated to support more than 300 FTE jobs in local economies, while direct employment on reserves amounts to a further 200 FTE jobs.


  Table 1.

  Cost-effectiveness of different ESA tier options in supporting breeding wading birds. Figures in parentheses are the annual ESA payment per ha for each tier. Breeding wading bird data are for 1997, and ESA payment data for the 1996-97 financial year.

(a) Broads ESA


Management
Area of land surveyed for breeding wading birds (ha)
Number of breeding lapwing, redshank and snipe (pairs)
Number of breeding lapwings, redshank and snipe per £100k of ESA payment received
Tier 1 (£135):
RSPB
119
7
44
Non-RSPB
8,261
198
18
Tier 2 (£225):
RSPB
378
74
87
Non-RSPB
4,958
327
29
Tier 3 (£310):
RSPB
73
38
165
(b) Suffolk River Valleys ESA
Management
Area of land surveyed for breeding wading birds (ha)
Number of breeding lapwing, redshanka (pairs)
Number of breeding lapwings and redshanka per £100k of ESA payment received
Tier 1 (£80):
RSPB
119
15
157
Non-RSPB
1,237
46
46
Tier 2 (£190):
RSPB
75
11
78
Non-RSPB
432
94
114
Tier 2A (£240):
RSPB
99
75
317
Non-RSPB
157
63
167


  Tier 1 is a low tier option. Tier 2 is a high water level option. Tiers 2A and 3 are high water level options that prescribe that ditch water levels be maintained at field level between January and the end of April or May and held within 45cm of field level from then until the end of October. Tiers 2A and 3 also place further restrictions on other grassland management.

  For the Broads ESA there was virtually no non-RSPB managed land surveyed that had been entered into Tier 3.a Does not include breeding snipe as there are no data in Babbs (1997) in which tier the 10 or fewer pairs of breeding snipe on grassland in the survey area were recorded. Data for ESAs analysed from original data in Weaver (1995) and Babbs (1997).



2   Peach W J, Lovett L J, Wotton S R, and Jeffs C. 2001 Countryside stewardship delivers cirl buntings (Emberiza cirius) in Devon, UK Biological Conservation 101 361-373. Back

3   Nigel Hewitt, Mark Robins 2001. The Financial, Social and Management Effects of Countryside Stewardship Cirl Bunting Agreements on South Devon Farms. RSPB unpublished report. Back

4   Ausden, M. & Hirons, G.J.M. 2002. Grassland nature reserves for breeding wading birds in England and the implications for the ESA agri-environment scheme. Biological Conservation 106/2, 279-291. Back


 
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