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Farmers urged to help save the skylark

PUBLISHED: 16:51 07 September 2009 | UPDATED: 11:58 06 July 2010

East anglian farmers are being urged to help dwindling populations of skylarks as they prepare to sow their overwinter crops.

The RSPB wants farmers to leave uncropped patches in their fields, in a bid to boost numbers of the iconic farmland bird, whose numbers have halved in the past 40 years.

East anglian farmers are being urged to help dwindling populations of skylarks as they prepare to sow their overwinter crops.

The RSPB wants farmers to leave uncropped patches in their fields, in a bid to boost numbers of the iconic farmland bird, whose numbers have halved in the past 40 years.

According to the conservation charity, the "skylark plots" help the birds forage for food once the crops grow and become dense, by allowing the skylarks to land in the field and access insects in the crop.

The patches are created either by switching off the drill when sowing for a short period, or by spraying out the small areas after sowing the fields.

According to the RSPB, the uncropped patches have helped to boost breeding productivity at the charity's Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire by nearly 50pc - leading to an increase in the number of pairs on the trial farm from 10 to 44 within the last decade.

The skylark plots, which need to be a minimum of 16 square metres each, pay well as an option under agri-environment schemes in which farmers receive funding for taking steps to help wildlife.

The RSPB's research suggests that if between 10pc and 20pc of winter wheat crops had skylark plots in them, it could reverse the continuing declines in numbers of the bird - and would also have benefits for other species such as yellow wagtails.

Chris Bailey, RSPB farm manager, said: "Skylark plots are very simple to create during autumn sowing. You can either switch the drill off as you move or you can go back after you've sown a whole field and spray these very small patches out.

"Some farmers may be concerned about leaving land uncropped, however a field only needs two plots per hectare which means the total area of land taken out of production is minute - less than one third of one per cent.

"It's easy to fit into the farming system and it makes sound economic sense. This is a simple solution that farmers can put in place with the flick of a switch.''

The skylark, which is "red listed'' as a target for conservation action because of falls in numbers, is one of a number of farmland birds which have seen large declines in populations in recent decades.

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