Letter:Set-aside can save the skylark

Sir: Your article ("Song of the skylark grows fainter as grasslands dwindle", 27 May) highlights the role that set-aside has played in stemming the dramatic decline of one of our best-loved farmland birds. But the future of set-aside looks uncertain and there are already calls to reduce the amount for next year.

Alternative measures to help the skylark and other farmland birds are desperately needed. The current high profitability of arable farming makes it unlikely that farmers will change their farming practices to benefit birds and other wildlife without government intervention. Given the Government's reluctance to require better environmental management on arable land, the RSPB has called, without success, for the introduction of an environment incentive scheme to play for more sensitive management of the cropped area.

Costs are cited as the prohibitive factor, but the Government cannot have it both ways. Either conditions should be attached to the pounds 1 billion in subsidies currently paid to arable farmers or farmers should be encouraged with incentives to farm cropped land for food, but also environmental benefit.

The Government has in the past taken an innovative approach to the development of environmental schemes such as Environmental Sensitive Areas. Now, more than ever, it needs to keep up the momentum and show that it is serious about finding practical solutions to environmental problems. The future of the skylark on farmland will depend upon it.


Director of Conservation,

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Sandy, Bedfordshire