The relevance of non-farmland habitats, uncropped areas and habitat diversity to the conservation of farmland birds


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Use of non-farmland habitats by species generally perceived as ‘farmland birds’ is common, yet these habitats are not always considered in conservation strategies aimed at population recovery. At the national scale, many farmland species occur in landscapes not dominated by farmland. An analysis of distribution atlas data coupled with remotely sensed habitat data showed that for 16 out of 28 farmland species, less than half of the breeding range was associated with high cover of lowland farmland. However, with a few exceptions, populations breeding in non-farmland habitats are likely to depend on farmland at some time in the year. Within farmland landscapes, uncropped areas and patches of non-farmland habitat can provide nesting, foraging or roosting resources. Habitats that are scarce on farmland and that provide potential supplementary or complementary resources to those available within the productive areas of farmland include ruderal vegetation, rough grassland and scrub. Enhancing habitat diversity through provision of modest quantities of these habitats will benefit farmland birds. Complete knowledge of year-round habitat requirements and patterns of resource use at all scales is needed if robust national conservation plans are to be developed for farmland species. Similarly, interactions between the farmland and non-farmland sections of populations need to be determined.