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Leaving final-cut grass silage in situ overwinter as a seed resource for declining farmland birds

Buckingham, D. L. and Peach, W. J. (2006) Leaving final-cut grass silage in situ overwinter as a seed resource for declining farmland birds. Biodiversity and Conservation, 15 (12). pp. 3827-3845. ISSN 0960-3115

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s10531-005-0304-8


The loss of seed-rich wintering habitats has been a major contributory cause of farmland bird population declines in western Europe. Agricultural grasslands are particularly poor winter foraging habitats for granivorous birds, which have declined most in the pastoral farming regions of western Britain. We describe an experiment to test the utility of fertile ryegrass (Lolium) swards as a potentially rich source of winter seed for declining farmland birds. Four patches of final-cut grass silage were allowed to set seed and were left in situ overwinter. Half of each patch was lightly aftermath grazed in an attempt to increase the accessibility of the seed to foraging birds and reduce the perceived predation risk. Large numbers of yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella) and reed buntings (E. schoeniclus) foraged on the seeded plots throughout the winter. They preferred to forage on ungrazed seeded plots, where the accumulation of senescent foliage resulted in a 14% average loss in silage yield in the following season. However, seed produced on the plots also led to sward regeneration, increasing subsequent yields on some plots. The technique offers clear benefits as a potential future agri-environment measure for declining granivorous birds, with wide applicability, but requires further development to minimise sward damage and costs to the farmer. Autumn grazing should reduce sward damage, but at the cost of reduced usage by buntings. Using the technique just prior to reseeding would be one way of avoiding any costs of sward damage.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
ID Code:8350
Uncontrolled Keywords:agri-environment, Emberiza Buntings, food abundance, food, accessibility, pastoral agriculture, silage, GRANIVOROUS BIRDS, AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION, HABITAT STRUCTURE, SURVIVAL RATES, WINTER, ABUNDANCE, ENGLAND, CONSERVATION, LANDSCAPES, SELECTION

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