Select Committee on European Communities Second Report - Written Evidence


(i) The importance of farmland for wildlife.

  Farmland accounts for approximately 70 per cent of the total land area in the UK. Although highly managed the farmland ecosystem supports a wide variety of wildlife, in many cases it is richer in species than the "natural forest" that it originally replaced. The length of time over which arable farming has occurred has also allowed wildlife to adapt to these new habitats.

  A review of bird species in Europe published by BirdLife International in 1994 found that there were 195 species of conservation concern which represents 38 per cent of all European birds (Tucker et al. 1994). Of these, 116 utilise lowland farmland for feeding and breeding, and some are highly dependent. In Birds of Conservation Concern the UK's leading non-governmental bird conservation organisations[38] found that of the 36 species of greatest conservation concern 15 depend on lowland farmland habitats[39].

  Farmland is also very important for species of arthropods and plants. Such species are particularly important for birds and mammals as they form the basis for the food chain, for example many farmland birds feed on seeds produced by annual plants that occur in arable and grass fields, or on insects associated with those plants.

(ii) Declines of wildlife on farmland

  Many of the species that are dependent on arable land have suffered dramatic declines in the past 25 years. The decline of farmland birds has been well documented and the Government has committed itself to conserving the population of 19 species which appear on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).

  Farmland mammal species, such as brown hare and the pipistrelle bat have also undergone declines and appear in the UK BAP. There have also been serious declines in both numbers and diversity of insects on arable land. The Game Conservancy Trust recorded 4.2 per cent decline per annum between 1972 and 1990, in 700 species of cereal arthropods, and nearly 50 per cent of species of wild bee are considered to be under threat. Species of insect, bee, moth and ground beetles associated with arable land feature in the UK BAP.

  Plants of arable land have also dramatically declined in the past 40 years, indeed a few species have become extinct, for example corncockle and thoro-wax. More arable plant species have gone extinct compared to plant species in any other habitat. The plant composition of arable land has also changed with annual grass plants, such as blackgrass and sterile brome, becoming more common over the past 20—30 years, whilst broad-leaved annuals have declined.

(iii) Causes of declines of farmland wildlife

  Changes in the nature of arable production over the past 30 years, fuelled by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and technological advancement, are thought to have caused these declines. These developments have changed and degraded the environmental aspect of the arable ecosystem and wildlife has not been able to adapt. In particular:

    —  the loss of over-wintered stubbles;

    —  the loss of mixed farming;

    —  the increased use of pesticides and fertilisers.

are thought to be the most significant changes that have resulted in the loss of habitat and breakdown of the food chain.

4 June 1998

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