Problems in the food chain

Arable crops contain a third less insects than are needed to sustain declining farmland birds such as grey partridges (above), yellowhammers and white throats. Ideally, birds need a mix of seed-bearing arable flowers, such as the field pansy or knotgrass, which will contain grasshoppers, caterpillars and leaf beetles.

However, a study, carried out by entomologists from The Game Conservancy Trust, shows that over the past five years insect populations have declined significantly. It highlighted the need for farmers to target control specifically at pernicious weeds, such as black grass, rather than non-competitive arable flowers that are favoured by birds and insects.

The study was carried out as part of the Defra-funded £3.5m project called Sustainable Arable Farming for an Improved Environment (SAFFIE), and was headed by Dr John Holland, who says: ‘The decline of many farmland birds such as skylarks and grey partridges is linked to the loss of their food supply. Boosting the number of arable flowers in a crop encourages more insects and thus more farmland birds.’

The SAFFIE project aims to enhance farmland biodiversity by developing more wildlife-friendly farming techniques.