Monday, January 24, 2011

Farmland near Folkingham

click photo to enlarge
The other day I was reading a news article about the recent DEFRA report, "Wild Bird Populations in the UK". The state of a country's birds is a useful general indicator of the state of its wildlife across the board, and the data in this report doesn't make good reading. It compares today with the the position in the 1970s, and while there are some some encouraging things to note, such as the sustained increase in seabird populations, the species of other habitats, with some exceptions have generally declined, often markedly.

Water and wetland birds are a mixed picture - those that inhabit lakes, ponds and slow rivers have increased, but the birds of wet grassland and fast flowing rivers are down. Wintering wildfowl and waders are above the numbers seen in the 1970s, but have fallen from a 1990s peak. Many woodland birds, such as the wood warbler, tree pipit, lesser spotted woodpecker, song thrush, tawny owl are much less common. A few species including the great spotted woodpecker, blackcap, nuthatch, green woodpecker and long-tailed tit have increased in abundance. However, it is farmland birds that have declined in the greatest numbers. The grey partridge, starling, turtle dove, corn bunting, tree sparrow and yellow wagtail are down by over 70%, though a few, such as the wood pigeon, jackdaw and greenfinch, have increased by around 50%.

The probable cause of the decline in farmland birds is the intensification of agriculture, increased drainage, the removal of trees, bushes and hedgerows, and the conversion of scrub and "rough" land to pasture or arable. The changing weather and climate has probably added to the loss. During a recent walk over an area of low Lincolnshire hills given over to arable, pasture and small woods the loss described in the report was palpable. I saw a buzzard, a few kestrels, rooks and jackdaws, a single group of about 50 lapwing, a few gulls, starlings, house sparrows, fieldfare and redwing, some robins, a few chaffinch, some red-legged partridge, pheasants and 3 skylarks. I could list many species that I'd expect to see but didn't, birds such as the yellow hammer, sparrow hawk (though that has become more abundant), grey partridge, jay, linnets, redpoll, mistle thrush and meadow pipit. Interestingly much of Lincolnshire farmland is subject to stewardship schemes of one sort or another designed to conserve and promote wildlife whilst allowing efficient food production. The major bird conservation organisations make the point that, though the decline in bird populations is severe, we do know how to manage farmland to reverse the trend. Perhaps a starting point should be reviewing the terms and scope of those stewardship schemes.

Today's photograph was taken late in the afternoon in the area of Lincolnshire where we walked, near the village of Folkingham. Sterile areas of winter wheat dominate the shot, but a few trees, bushes, closely cropped hedges and an area of pasture can also be seen: not very conducive to thriving bird populations. But, the raking yellow light of the low sun as it shone through a gap in the clouds did transform the scene for my photograph, and made the foreground contrast nicely with the village that was still in shade.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 175mm
F No: 7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 160
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On