NEW research offers an explanation for why numbers of many countryside bird species continue to decline, despite Government financial support for farmers to improve their habitat through agri-environment schemes.
The team, led by Dr Mark Whittingham of Newcastle University's School of Biology and partners, suggest that current UK agri-environment schemes have worked well when targeted at the needs of such rare and localised species as corncrakes and stone curlews.
However, being able to reverse the declines of more widespread species such as skylarks and yellowhammers will depend on better matching of habitat management to the different landscapes in which these birds are found.
The new research, published in the current edition of the academic journal Ecology Letters, is based on a survey of 42 sites in England and Wales.
With the help of volunteer birdwatchers, researchers mapped the farmland environment at each site, and recorded the variety and number of nesting birds to see if there was any relationship between the two.
The team found there were variations from region to region, suggesting that agri-environment measures that were more carefully tailored to take account of this variation could be more successful.
Dr Whittingham, a BBSRC research fellow at Newcastle University, said: "Previous research shows that although these schemes have reversed declines of rare species found only in limited areas, they have yet to prove capable of doing the same for more widespread species found in a variety of landscapes."
"We believe the design and implementation of agri-environment schemes needs to be more sensitive to regional differences. A menu of management options which suits the needs of wildlife in Devon, for example, may not meet the needs of biodiversity in East Anglia," added Dr Whittingham, who carried out much of the work while a researcher at Oxford University.