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Agri-environment schemes provide greater choice for winter birds


Hedges on farms that are part of an agri-environment scheme contain more berry-producing species than those not in schemes, ecologists have found. Speaking at the British Ecological Society’s Annual Meeting taking place at Lancaster University on 7-9 September 2004, ecologists from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster will report that fruit from certain hedgerow species can remain an important food source for birds until Christmas if hedges remain unmanaged, and that agri-environment schemes may have more of an impact on how farmers manage their hedges than whether they farm organically or conventionally.

The results are based on a study of 10 pairs of organic and conventional cereal farms in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, where the number of hedgerow species and numbers of berries in hedges were assessed. Farmers were also interviewed about their management practices.

According to Dr Lisa Norton of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster: “Although we know that berries are an important resource for overwintering birds, very little work has been done on berries and their availability. Organic farming is widely believed to be good for wildlife but this study shows that, in terms of numbers of woody species and berries in hedgerows, conventional farms may offer an equally good resource for wildlife. It also provides some evidence that agri-environment schemes may have more of an impact on hedgerows than whether a farm is organically or conventionally managed, with hedges on farms in agri-environment schemes containing more berry producing species than those not part of a scheme. This resulted in an increased range of berries available but no greater total number of berries. However, given the fact that ’agreement’ hedges tended to be in the early stages of establishment, the potential for much higher berry production in the future under beneficial management is significant.”

“Good hedge management is carried out by conventional farmers as well as organic with increasing numbers of farmers aware of the value of leaving hedge cutting until winter and cutting no more than two in every five years. A small proportion of conventional farmers in our study still cut annually and one cut after harvest which devastated fruit supply for birds in the autumn,” Norton says.

Dr Lisa Norton will present her full findings at 18:20 on Tuesday 7 September 2004.

Becky Allen | alfa
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