Letter: Birds retreat from countryside scoured by farming

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The Independent Online
Sir: After reading Nicholas Schoon's "Species put on survival 'red list' by farmers" (18 April) and Duff Hart-Davis' "All is well when the partridge flourishes" (27 April), I write with some observations from living next to arable farmland for 15 years.

The English grey partridge has disappeared in this time - all is not well for farmland birds around here.

I have seen no evidence of the Game Conservancy's initiatives to create more sympathetic conditions on farmland for game birds and thus for other species - no attempts to reduce spray damage by leaving a 6m strip at field edges or to make "insect banks" to supply food for chicks. Crops here are sprayed right up to the edges - indeed, these field edges receive extra herbicide at this time of year.

Set aside areas are often ploughed, harrowed, rolled or sprayed during May. This does not help ground-nesting birds.

After harvest farmers "tidy-up" field edges before ploughing and resowing crops from September. This involves trimming ditches and banks, levelling all plant growth (not just patches of thistles) and sometimes sapling trees. What hedges remain are also cut back, so removing any winter berries. Thus, not only are autumn-sown fields "empty larders" for birds but so are any connecting rough strips of land.

Attitudes of farmers seem to be that they need to make a living and therefore cannot afford to spare any land for conservation measures. This may be so. However, it remains that if these methods of treating the land are repeated farm after farm, parish after parish, which sadly seems to be the case, then bird species must continue to decline since they, like us, need a habitat.

Mrs A M Bickmore

Gilston, Essex

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