Europe´s farmland birds continue to suffer from agricultural policy

EU unlikely to meet its 2010 biodiversity target

Brussels and Prague, 2 December 2008 - According to the latest data from the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) and BirdLife International, many of Europe´s formerly "common" farmland birds continue to suffer from the effects of agricultural intensification.

The updated European wild bird indicators, which were released today, bring together the most comprehensive biodiversity data of their kind in Europe, collated by the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS) - a partnership of leading ornithologists and statisticians from the European Bird Census Council, the Royal Society for the Protection of the Birds/BirdLife UK, BirdLife International, and Statistics Netherlands [1]. The indicators cover the period from 1980-2006, and have been recognised as a vital barometer of the state of biodiversity and the environment in general by the EU´s sustainable development strategy.

The ongoing loss of wildlife and the degradation of the wider environment have become a focus of public interest, as it is increasingly clear how much human well-being, economic development and food production are dependent on biodiversity-rich ecosystems, as well as our ability to deal with the effects of climate change.

EU leaders have pledged to halt biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010 [2], but a mid-term report expected from the European Commission in early December is likely to show that this target will not be met without drastic changes to EU and national policies, most notably in the field of agriculture.

While many rare and localised bird species have benefited from special protection under the EU´s Birds Directive and the Natura 2000 network [3], the new figures show what is happening to many species that are perceived as "common and widespread" (Fig.1).

Figure 1. A biodiversity indicator for Europe: wild bird indicator 2008

Overall, the numbers of all common birds declined by around 10% between 1980 and 2006. Common forest birds declined by a similar amount, but common farmland birds declined most severely, their average breeding populations in 2006 being around 50% lower than in 1980 - and there is no sign of recovery. The Skylark Alauda arvensis is a typical example (Fig.2)

Figure 2. The population of the Skylark Alauda arvensis are declining rapidly across Europe.

Farmland birds have suffered most in western Europe, which has the longest history of agricultural intensification (Fig.3). The countries of central and eastern Europe, which joined the EU more recently (in 2004 or 2007), have not yet sustained such large losses of farmland birds, but their numbers are declining and are already much lower than in the 1980s [4].

Figure 3. Populations of common farmland birds in old and new EU member states. The group ´Old EU 15´ represents the countries that were EU members before 2004; the group ´New EU 12´ represents the countries that entered the EU in 2004 or in 2007.

Agricultural intensification, such as the loss of crop diversity, destruction of grasslands and hedgerows, and excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, has been widely recognised as one of the main driving forces behind this dramatic decline of common farmland birds. Therefore, the EBCC and BirdLife reiterate their call to use the ongoing EU Budget Review to transform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) into a sustainable land management and rural development policy [5]. "We need to spend EU taxpayers´ money more sensibly - let us support those farmers who maintain a healthy, thriving rural environment, and let´s stop distributing unjustified and environmentally harmful subsidies" says Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife International.

As well as updating the indicators regularly, the PECBMS strives to improve the quality of the underlying data by helping European countries to develop or improve their national common bird monitoring schemes. The new PECBMS publication, ´A Best Practice Guide for Wild Bird Monitoring Schemes´, which is also launched today, represents another step towards improving the quality of bird monitoring schemes, many of which have already achieved high scientific standards [6].

Dr. Richard Gregory, Chairman of the EBCC, concluded: "National monitoring schemes are a crucial source of data for European wild bird indicators, so great importance is attached to maintaining and where possible improving their performance and data quality. Long-term funding from national governments is crucial for supporting this essential work, which offers excellent value for money because most of the data are collected by skilled volunteers."


Herlinde Herpoel, Media and Communication Manager at BirdLife International: +32 494 542 844, herlinde.herpoel at
Dr Richard Gregory, Chairman, European Bird Census Council, & Head of Species Monitoring and Research, RSPB: +44 (0)1767 693049, richard.gregory at
Dr Petr Voří¹ek, PECBMS Coordinator: +420 257 212 465, euromonitoring at

Notes for the editor

[1] The European wild bird indicators are produced by the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS). The PECBMS is a common initiative of the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) and BirdLife International, and the partnership involves also the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Statistics Netherlands. Currently funded by the European Commission and the RSPB, its aim is to deliver policy-relevant biodiversity indicators to decision-makers in Europe. It collates national data in a harmonised way from a network of expert ornithologists, and aims to increase both the numbers of countries collecting and submitting data on trends, and the number of bird species and habitats covered. More widely, the project aims to improve the scientific standard of bird monitoring by fostering co-operation and sharing best practice and expertise. The success of this project owes much to the cooperation, goodwill and expertise of the PECBMS network. Special thanks go to all the individuals and organisations responsible for national data collation and analysis, and to the many thousands of skilled volunteer counters responsible for data collection.

Project Coordinator: Dr Petr Voří¹ek; Technical Assistant: Jana ©korpilová; Project Manager: Dr Richard Gregory; Statistical Advisor: Dr Arco van Strien. Website:

The European Bird Census Council (EBCC) is an association of like-minded expert ornithologists co-operating in various ways to improve bird monitoring and atlas work in Europe, and thereby inform and improve the management and conservation of bird populations. It aims to promote exchange of news, ideas and expertise through a journal and a programme of workshops and conferences. It works closely with ornithological and conservation organisations, and encourages links between ornithologists, land managers and policy makers. The EBCC oversees specialist working groups and European monitoring projects; these have included The EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds (1997), and currently the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme. Website:

BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation NGOs working in more than 100 countries and territories that, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting them. BirdLife is represented in 42 European countries and in all 27 Member States.
Sign up to BirdLife´s e-newsletter today to receive a monthly update on BirdLife´s activities in Europe:

[2] Indicators of biodiversity are needed to assess whether this ambitious target has been met. While many such indicators have been proposed and many are under development, few are ready to be used and updated regularly. The wild bird indicators produced by the PECBMS are an exception. The PECBMS indicators are based on data from generic breeding bird monitoring schemes in 21 countries. With each new update, the number of species and countries involved has increased, and the data quality control procedures have improved, but the messages conveyed by the indicators have remained clear and consistent.

[3] In 2007, a paper published in the leading journal Science (317: 810-813) by scientists from the RSPB and BirdLife showed how the EU Birds Directive has helped those species considered to be most at risk, partly through the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) as part of the EU´s Natura 2000 network. The Birds Directive was adopted in 1979 and is binding law for all EU countries. It covers all species of wild birds across the EU, and requires special conservation measures for a number of listed species. For more information, see.

[4] The numbers of many bird species characteristic of European farmland are declining, as shown by examples of Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis), Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) and Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra).
For individual species indices and trends, please see.

[5] For more detailed information on BirdLife´s position on agricultural policy, see.

[6] To expand the scheme, there has been a big effort to initiate common bird monitoring schemes in countries not currently covered by the PECBMS by providing encouragement, assistance and advice on methods and approaches. Today marks the launch of a new tool - A Best Practice Guide for Wild Bird Monitoring Schemes (for more information on this tool, please visit the link) - aimed at those wishing to start a bird monitoring scheme, as well as those wishing to improve an existing scheme. The book has been written by bird monitoring experts from across Europe. It covers various aspects of bird monitoring, from field methods and sampling design, through data management and analysis, to the use of results and communication. The text is accompanied by case studies from various European countries, a list of recommended literature, and sources of information available on the internet.

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