Farmland bird numbers have more than doubled in areas where farmers are taking part in agri-environment schemes, according to new research.
The study, funded by Natural England and Defra and published in leading journal Animal Conservation, tracked changes in the number of birds on farms under Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) for six years between 2008-2014.
Across the 60 farms involved in the research, the Farmland Bird Index – which is an important measure of biodiversity because birds sit near the top of the food chain – increased by between 31 per cent and 97 per cent.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has said the study shows farmers have the potential to deliver large and rapid population increases of a number of farmland birds, such as skylark, starling and linnet, if they are given the funding and support to manage their land in a wildlife-friendly way after Brexit.
Dr Will Peach, head of research delivery at the charity, said: “The UK has experienced a massive loss of farmland wildlife since the 1970s, and Defra’s Wild Bird Indicators published only last month show this loss has continued during the last five years.
“Our latest study shows when farmers are supported to adopt wildlife-friendly approaches, then bird life will rapidly bounce back.
“Many farmers are doing great things for wildlife, and without their efforts, the countryside would undoubtedly be in a much worse position.
“We have the knowledge and the tools to reverse farmland bird declines, what we need now is the political will to implement them more widely.”
Defra Secretary Michael Gove also welcomed the results of the study. He said: “Our farmers are the original friends of the earth and these results clearly demonstrate the vital role they play in protecting our wildlife and boosting biodiversity.
“Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to do more to protect our environment and wildlife, supporting farmers to manage the rich habitats and precious species under their stewardship in a more sustainable way.
“These results show with the right management, and more targeted support for farmers, we can reverse the decline in numbers of our birds.”