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Keywords:

  • agriculture;
  • agri-environment scheme;
  • conservation;
  • granivore;
  • Skylark;
  • stubble;
  • wild bird cover

Environmental Stewardship (ES) is the main mechanism for reversing the decline in farmland birds in England, and includes a range of options designed to provide winter foraging for seed-eating species. We estimated granivorous songbird densities on ES options designed to provide winter food, on farms within the Entry Level (ELS) or Higher Level (HLS) strata of ES. ES Wild Bird Mixtures (WBMs) hosted higher densities and a wider range of granivores than non-ES game covers, although in East Anglia the enhanced HLS WBM was used no more than the basic ELS WBM. In the West Midlands there were low densities of granivores on all WBMs and game covers. The widespread ELS WBM appeared to provide little food for buntings but supported finches, partially through greater weed burdens. There was a weak, non-significant trend for Skylarks Alauda arvensis to make greater use of ELS cereal stubbles than non-ES stubbles, possibly because of post-harvest herbicide restrictions allowing overwinter weed growth. At the field scale, this work demonstrates that although some ES options provide winter food resources for birds, there is limited evidence for additional benefits of Higher Level vs. Entry Level Stewardship to wintering farmland songbirds.