Global warming is good news for birds

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Britain's declining population of farmland birds, including the corn bunting, yellowhammer and the wren, may have an unlikely saviour: global warming.

Britain's declining population of farmland birds, including the corn bunting, yellowhammer and the wren, may have an unlikely saviour: global warming.

In an unusual departure from its normally dire warnings about the risks of climate change, a report for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds admits that most farmland birds in Britain will prosper under global warming.

For the majority of these birds, milder winters, an earlier spring, an increase in insect populations and weeds, and greater use of crops such as sunflowers and maize will produce an overall benefit. Winter survival rates will improve and the breeding season will lengthen, leading to population increases for buntings, house and tree sparrows, the thrush and bullfinch.

The RSPB report, written by a respected Government adviser on climate change, Jo Hossell, warns that the picture is complicated by the unpredictable impact of global warming on local weather patterns, and on farming techniques and crops.

With temperatures expected to rise by two degrees Celsius by 2050, the weather will probably become wild and unpredictable. Increased droughts in southern England will affect the availability of food and water and, in the north and west, heavier spring rainfall will affect the survival of chicks.

Some farmland birds, particularly the grey partridge, black grouse, corncrake and curlew will suffer particularly badly as rising temperatures and encroaching grassland reduce their rare mountainous habitats.

Breeding patterns are already changing due to the early effects of climate change. A third of all birds, such as the magpie, are now laying eggs up to 17 days earlier than 30 years ago. But even the news for birds which will prosper is mixed. Some would be seriously hit if farmers exploited higher temperatures and rainfall by increasing the yield of crops, increasing the level of autumn planting and used even more pesticides.

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