Belfast Telegraph

Five bird species flying to extinction due to £40m farming cuts

By Linda Stewart

These are the five birds that will vanish from Northern Ireland’s countryside within decades if farmers don’t receive support for wildlife-friendly farming.

That’s the stark warning from the RSPB, which said the species are facing extinction after more than £40m was slashed from the agri-environment budget since 2010.

It said the five under-threat birds on its ‘Red List’ in Northern Ireland — the yellowhammer, curlew, linnet, lapwing and |hen harrier — face a very uncertain future without a properly funded Countryside Management Scheme designed to support their recovery.

And it said the situation is particularly dire for the curlew and lapwing — without this key support, both farmland species are set to be extinct within 10 years.

“This money was hard won, to allow farmers to get the money to do work to improve the fortunes for quite a lot of threatened species,” Northern Ireland RSPB director James Robinson said.

“Cutting this money doesn’t suggest that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and the Agriculture Minister are supportive of wildlife-friendly farming and this is a worrying trend.”

At present, 1,500 farmers are receiving support to protect wildlife under the Countryside Management Scheme (CMS).

The RSPB estimates that £40m has been cut from the CMS since 2010.

Meanwhile, a further £15m has been cut from the rural development programme — and some of that money would have been used to support the CMS.

In 2010 DARD received 4,800 applications for the CMS and offered agreements to 1,200 applicants, of which 550 eventually signed up.

RSPB says that DARD had hoped that another 1,300 agreements could be signed next year but have now decided to offer only 200, using the savings to improve compliance and farmer support — measures that the RSPB says should have been in place from the start.

“We understand that farmers need financial support, but believe this should be in return for public goods such as wildlife-friendly farming that maintains a healthy countryside,” Mr Robinson said.

“There is a very real risk that some of these species will suffer badly because there is no management for them in the future.

“The curlew has no future without agri-environment schemes. Without that money it will go extinct here in the next 10 years — and it’s the same for lapwings.

“All five species are dependent on good management of farmland. Without good agri-environment support it is difficult to see a long-term future for them.”

Hen Harrier

A bird of prey that lives in open areas with low vegetation. Historical decline means that this species is Red Listed in the UK. Around 50-60 breeding pairs remain in Northern Ireland, yet it faces threats from uncontrolled burning and abandonment of land. The management of upland habitats under Northern Ireland’s Countryside Management Scheme (CMS) has helped this threatened raptor.


A farmland plover also known as the ‘peewit’. Numbers of breeding lapwings in Northern Ireland dropped by around 60% between 1987 and 1999 and it is no longer a common sight in the spring. It is Red Listed in the UK and Ireland. Farmers who take advantage of Northern Ireland’s Countryside Management Scheme (CMS) are able to manage lapwing breeding sites and fallow plots for its nests, creating ideal conditions for this wading bird during the nesting and chick-rearing period.


With a long down-curved bill and evocative call, the curlew is an iconic bird of our uplands. The breeding population in Northern Ireland crashed by 60% between 1987 and 1999 and still continues to suffer. The curlew is Red Listed in Ireland because of rapid recent declines and it is classified as globally ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Breeding wader sites funded by the CMS provide a lifeline to this species which is disappearing across our island.


A farmland bunting that feeds on seeds in the winter months and takes insects to feed its chicks in the breeding season. In 1997, a survey of Yellowhammers in Northern Ireland indicated that there had been a 65% decline in numbers since 1991. Its recent population decline makes it a Red List species in the UK and Ireland. Recent research has shown that using alternative arable crops led to a 79% increase in their numbers at study farms in Co Down.


A small finch that feeds on small seeds in the winter. Linnet numbers have dropped substantially over the past few decades, with the UK population estimated to have declined by 57% between 1970 and 2008, leading to the species being Red Listed. However, the Northern Ireland population has been increasing in recent years. Habitats provided by farmers receiving CMS support create ideal conditions for the continued recovery of this species.

Belfast Telegraph


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