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Survival rates, causes of failure and productivity of Skylark Alauda arvensis nests on lowland farmland


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This paper analyses data from 995 Skylark Alauda arvensis nests found on lowland farms in southern England from 1996 to 1998. The majority of recorded nest failures were caused by predation except in agricultural grass, where trampling and agricultural operations were equally important. Nest survival rates varied between crop types, nests in cereals being around twice as likely to succeed as nests in grass or set-aside. In cereals, nest survival rates increased with increasing distance from the nearest tramline and declined over the course of the breeding season. Predator control also had a significant independent effect on nest survival rates. On one farm where many other factors were held constant, a highly significant increase in nest survival rates from 12.3% to 40.7% coincided with the introduction of intensive predator control, which also appeared to bring forward mean laying dates. Most environmental factors explaining significant variation in nest survival rates did so only at the chick stage. The mean number of chicks produced per nesting attempt was 1.26 in cereals, 0.78 in set-aside and 0.63 in grass, the differences being due primarily to variation in nest survival rates. Low densities of Skylark territories in cereal crops are not therefore the consequence of low breeding success at the scale of the individual nest and probably reflect limitations on the number of attempts made in a season. Measures taken to improve the attractiveness of cereal crops as a nesting habitat for Skylarks, and beneficial changes in grassland management, are likely to increase overall productivity.