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Agricultural intensification is accepted widely as a cause of bird population declines on farmland in Europe and North America. Although intensification is multivariate, one common theme is the impact on variation in crop structure, both within and between fields. Intensification creates simpler, more homogeneous and denser swards in both tillage crops and grassland. This influences predation risk, exposure to weather extremes and the diversity, abundance and accessibility of food. Birds trade off these pressures in different ways, so that the more uniform and dense the vegetation, the fewer the number of birds and range of species that are able to nest and forage successfully. Reversing recent trends towards dense, simplified and homogeneous swards will improve nesting and foraging habitat conditions for a wide range of species across farming systems, and may represent a cost-effective mechanism for the further improvement of agri-environment scheme options designed to assist the recovery of farmland bird populations.