Many bird species of lowland farmland have declined substantially in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years. Declines among farmland specialists are steeper than for generalists and were most rapid for these specialists in the 1970s and 1980s. These changes have been linked to increased agricultural intensification and are reflected in Red or Amber conservation concern status for many common farmland species, as well as for rarer ones. We review long- and short-term population trends and the conservation status of lowland farmland birds in the UK using the latest available information from bird surveys, and examine patterns among species. Analyses of demographic parameters suggest broadly that the key factor driving population changes of seed-eating and migrant birds is overwinter survival, whereas for many non-passerine species population growth appears to be limited by productivity. Population trends for a suite of lowland farmland species were first combined in the UK Government's headline wild bird indicator published in 1998. This ‘Skylark index’ as it is sometimes known was intended to reflect the health of the wider countryside and struck a chord with the public and decision-makers. We look at the behaviour of the composite indicator and explore the population dynamics of the increasing and declining species separately. Simple models of population growth in these groups are then used to explore plausible scenarios for delivering the Government's Public Service Agreement target to reverse the long-term decline in the number of farmland birds by 2020.