300 million farmland birds lost since 1980

How many more must we lose before changing course on the CAP?

Brussels, 12 July 2012 - The latest scientific data brought together by BirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council1) show that common farmland birds continue to decline in the EU: 300 million farmland birds have been lost since 1980. The news comes on the eve of a major civil society debate organised by the European Commission and the new Cypriot Presidency of the EU, in which decision makers are trying to gather support for the so-called "green reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)". Amidst growing fears that this latest reform might not deliver on its promises, today’s news should have a serious sobering effect and remind everyone what is at stake.

Both the alarming farmland bird news and the civil society debate come at a crucial time in CAP reform, as the Commission´s proposals are now being discussed within the Council and the European Parliament. The conference is intended to take stock of what civil society expects from the new Policy. "If you ask BirdLife Europe to take stock, the answer is clear", states Ian Burfield, BirdLife´s European Science & Data Manager. "Farmland birds are still declining at an alarming rate across the EU. The question is: how much longer can we afford to ignore this trend? The canary in the coal mine is rapidly losing its voice."

The current CAP results in a range of activities that damage the environment, and especially biodiversity. Intensification, which is accompanied by over-use of chemicals and the loss of landscape heterogeneity, has been one of the main causes of destruction of many farmland ecosystems around Europe. Another is the abandonment of High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems, threatened by our inability to change the economics of these precious systems in rural areas. Birds are one of the best indicators available for measuring ecosystem health, and the newly published figures show that many species are at their lowest since monitoring began2).

The Farmland Bird Indicator (FBI) combines the aggregate population trends of 37 species classified as farmland birds. 22 of these species are decreasing and only 6 are increasing, with a further 6 being stable and 3 having uncertain trends. Overall, the indicator shows a decline of 52% since 19802). This equates to a loss of more than 300 million farmland birds3) over the last three decades - despite the efforts of many nature-friendly farmers and conservation organisations.

"You might question whether it matters that we have lost 300 million farmland birds if you´re not a birdwatcher", says Richard Gregory, Project Manager at the RSPB "but it does because it suggests a wider disregard for nature and its value. There is growing recognition that biodiversity loss can affect lives and economies directly and indirectly through the loss of a range of ecosystem services upon which we all depend. We ignore biodiversity loss at our own peril."

"This is the eighth annual update of the European population trends of common bird species that we have produced", says Petr Voříšek, Project Coordinator at CSO. "With every update, we have increased the quantity and quality of our data; and with every update, we have confirmed the unprecedented decline of farmland birds."

"This trend must be reversed", states Trees Robijns, EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe, "and we know it is possible. CAP Greening or greenwashing will be decided by the stroke of a pen, but currently those who hold it seem to prefer a greenwash. These new data should help bring the debate back to where it must focus: serious willingness from decision makers to make this CAP reform one that turns the tide for farmland biodiversity."

BirdLife maintains that these trends can only be reversed if the whole of the CAP is greened. This involves setting a strong cross compliance baseline that includes all of the key pieces of environmental legislation; a first pillar of direct payments that are clearly linked to some basic good agronomic practices; and a strong Rural Development Pillar that contains measures to reward farmers that go beyond basic good practices and carry out specific management to improve the environment. Such reforms would ensure the CAP provides much better value for money, a must at times of financial crisis, when EU citizens expect even more that each euro is well spent.

BirdLife Europe hopes that this information helps decision makers and stakeholders to take a real step towards a better farming policy. The exchange taking place on the 13th of July should be a real exchange between EU decision makers and EU citizens, to move towards this more sustainable Agriculture Policy that will ensure our long-term food security while respecting the environment.

- End -

Notes to the editor:

1) Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS) is a joint initiative of the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) and BirdLife International initiated in 2002 and supported financially by the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB; BirdLife in the UK) and by the European Commission.

PECBMS has produced several other supra-national indicators, which are available at: as well as European species trends and population indices (

PECBMS contact (CSO): Petr Voříšek, project coordinator, Czech Society for Ornithology, Na Bělidle 252/34, CZ-150 00, Praha 5 - Smíchov, Czech Republic. E-mail:, phone: +420-257212465.

2) A scale of the decline of species once common in European farmland is illustrated by examples of species: Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) - 39 million birds lost, decline by 2% per year at average; Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - 12 million birds lost, decline by 2% per year at average; Eurasian Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) - 25 million birds lost, decline by 3% per year at average; Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) 21 - million birds lost, decline by 2% per year at average; Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) - 38 million birds lost, decline by 2% per year at average; Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - 40 million birds lost, decline by 1% per year at average; Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) - 2 million birds lost, decline by 2% per year at average. All figures are for the period 1980 to 2010, for the EU and, represent the average change per year rounded up. Although some species are declining less in New EU countries or even increase there (e.g. Starling), the less negative trends in New EU countries cannot compensate for overall dramatic decline of common farmland birds in the EU.

3) Data come from generic breeding bird monitoring schemes in 23 EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom), collated and analysed through the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS).

For more information please contact:

Trees Robijns
, EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe
Tel. +32 478887302

Richard Gregory, Head of Species Monitoring & Research, Department of Conservation Science at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)
Tel. +44 (0)1767 693049

Ian Burfield, European Science & Data Manager at BirdLife International
Tel. +44 1223 279 829


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