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Keywords:

  • arable;
  • bioenergy crop;
  • farmland;
  • grassland;
  • short-rotation coppice;
  • willow

We compared birds in a group of established and well-managed miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) fields in Somerset and East Devon, southwestern England, with plots of short rotation coppice (SRC) willow, arable crops and grassland in two winters and one summer. Following early spring cutting, 19 miscanthus fields grew taller, initially produced greater cover and were less weedy than SRC. As stubble in May, the miscanthus contained broadly similar species at similar densities to arable and grassland comparison plots. By July, at 2-m-tall, miscanthus held higher densities of birds but of fewer species, most of them characteristic of woodland and scrub. SRC, previously identified as being a beneficial crop for many birds, always contained more species and individuals than miscanthus. Throughout each of two winters, 15 miscanthus plots remained unharvested and contained more wood/scrub species such as Blackbirds Turdus merula, tits, Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus and Woodcock Scolopax rusticola than the comparison plots, which held more corvids and Skylarks Alauda arvensis amongst others. Similar overall mean densities of birds in the miscanthus and the comparison plots masked relatively low density variance in miscanthus and very high variance in the comparison plots. Unharvested miscanthus crops grown in place of habitat types supporting flocks of wintering birds would displace these flocks. Miscanthus plantations with open patches attracted more finches and waders in winter. The two previous studies of birds in miscanthus in the UK found more species and more individuals than we did in summer and winter. Both these studies documented high levels of weediness and patchy crop growth. In the context of this previous work our data suggest that bird use of miscanthus in summer and winter is likely to be variable, affected by region, weediness, crop structure and patchiness. While large-scale cropping of SRC in England is likely to have a positive overall impact on a suite of common farmland and woodland birds, our data suggest that miscanthus in the southwest of England may have an approximately neutral effect. However, some open farmland specialist species may be lost when planting either crop.