Intensive farming is the cause of declining bird populations, and hardly any climate change

Intensive farming is the cause of declining bird populations, and hardly any climate change

Partridge in the fall.Image ANP / Mauritius Images GmbH

This is the first time that scientists have put their finger on the reasons for the decline in bird numbers in such detail. Intensive farming is by far the largest component of damage, followed at some distance by urbanization.

Over the past four decades, the number of prairie birds has declined by more than half, the team of more than fifty scientists led by France concluded. But migratory birds and species, and forests that depend on worms and insects, are also badly affected by agriculture. “This is the vast majority of everyday birds,” the group dryly notes.

As a reason, scientists mainly point to the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers by farmers. These ensure fewer insects, larvae and worms. While invertebrates are an important part of the diet of many birds. In 143 of the 170 bird species we studied, it was especially important during the breeding season.

About the author
Martin Keulemans, Science Editor De Volkskrant, specializing in microlife, climate, archeology and genetic engineering. He was named Journalist of the Year for his reporting on the Coronavirus.

Climate change has no effect

Urban types have decreased by more than a quarter. Birds that live among trees and birds that depend on insects are particularly affected here. Remarkably, climate change has no effect: cold-loving and especially migratory birds are affected, but species that thrive best in moderate temperatures are in fact increasing.

It is good that it is now “conclusively” proven that intensive farming is the most destructive force for bird life in Europe, Knowledge Institute responds to Sophon Bird Research in the current situation.

It is not surprising that in the Netherlands, with its relatively intensive land use, there is also a significant decline in farmland birds. Since the 1960s, we have seen a decline in the number of farmland birds by more than seventy percent,” says the foundation, which itself is one of the suppliers of birds for the study.

Of the birds affected in our country, Soufon specifically mentions the gray bunting, the crane and the partridge, birds that have almost or completely disappeared. Other species, such as the oystercatcher, lapwing and black-tailed godwit, are rapidly declining in number.

Only a few species benefit from the changes. Like the yellowhammer, whose numbers have strangely increased in the Netherlands. Also remarkable is the success of the bat and the goose. The latter even creates a nuisance in the countryside, by setting up large breeding colonies there.

One step short of refutation

in the journal PNAS The researchers themselves speak of a “semi-causal” relationship, which is a move more cautious than decisive. After all, the causal relationship between agriculture and bird populations is notoriously difficult to prove scientifically.

The team got to the bottom of that by comparing observations of 170 common European species over 37 years in 28 countries with changes in land use. For the first time we have succeeded in revealing the relative contributions of agriculture, urbanization, climate and deforestation.

Study maize in La Sirena.  La Serena is an arid and empty steppe region in western Spain.  Image by ANP / Sijmen Hendriks Photography

Study maize in La Sirena. La Serena is an arid and empty steppe region in western Spain.Image by ANP / Sijmen Hendriks Photography

Where agriculture intensified, 31 common species were harmed, while only a few species clearly benefited. A warming climate has been as detrimental to many species as it has been beneficial. Urbanization has been detrimental to slightly more species.

Although there are more forests, forest birds are declining

The trend in forest birds is striking. Despite the increase in forest area in almost all European countries, the number of forest birds has decreased by about 17 percent. This is partly due to the type of forest that grew there, Think ecologists. A production forest or a carbon dioxide capture forest is not necessarily pleasant for birds.

The findings highlight what is already “the greatest political and technological challenge for European agricultural policy,” the research team wrote. Specifically, to balance the high productivity of agricultural activities with environmental protection. But they later said harshly: “The fate of European bird populations depends on the rapid implementation of profound changes and agrarian reforms.”

A conclusion shared by experts not involved in the study. says German ecologist Guy Beer in comment in search.

Skylark in the meadow.  ANP/Buiten-Beeld image

Skylark in the meadow.ANP/Buiten-Beeld image


Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

A ‘ghost of the past’, is what Sovon Holland calls the sky-dome, which fifty years ago was still one of the most natural birds on farmland. Since then it has gone downhill rapidly. By 2010, nearly three-quarters of breeding pairs had disappeared, although there has been some recovery in recent years.

Corn thresher (Impiriza calendra)

Corn thresher was not generally popular. But in the areas where they overlapped, a bird that loved open countryside like river plains had plenty. Now type endangered in our country: The number of breeding pairs has decreased from about 1,200 in 1975 to less than 10 in about 2010.

Partridges (Perdix perdix)

He was once an ordinary farmer bird, but he has been in free fall since the 1990s. More than 90 percent of the partridges have now disappeared. The main reason, according to Sofon: “Expansion in size, changing crop selection, use of pesticides and other factors have deprived partridges of breeding grounds, shelters and food.”

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