Birds Directive - Promoting the importance of the EU Birds Directive in conservation management on farmland

LIFE08 INF/UK/000214

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Jenny ATKINS
Email: jenny.atkins@rspb.org.uk

Project description:


Around 75% of the UK’s land area is farmed. Long-term data on bird populations show that a large number of species that are dependent on farmland have declined significantly. In addition to species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive, such as stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), corncrake (Crex crex) and chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), other bird species that were previously widespread and common have declined by as much as 95%. These losses have been driven by damaging changes in agricultural practices, which have led to a simplification of the farmed countryside and a reduction in the quantity and quality of habitats for wildlife. These changes have included:

  • A reduction in the area of land under mixed farming regimes;
  • Increases in the use and effectiveness of pesticides;
  • Widespread ‘improvement’ of grasslands through the use of artificial fertilisers;
  • Alterations in cropping practices most notably a shift towards sowing crops in the winter rather than the spring;
  • Increased land drainage; and
  • Loss of field boundary and margin habitats.
  • In broad terms, these land management changes have adversely affected one or more of the following factors:

  • The quantity and/or quality of available nesting habitat;
  • The abundance and/or availability of seed food;
  • The abundance and/or availability of invertebrate food; and
  • Habitat diversity (which is important because a number of farmland bird species need a variety of habitats in close proximity to one another).


The main objectives of the project were to:

  • Engage directly with at least 3 540 farmers through on-farm bird surveys, a network of demonstration farms and a Biodiversity Award scheme, in order to raise awareness of the Birds Directive and promote positive land management;
  • Engage at least 7 040 members of the general public directly in the project through the delivery of the surveys and engagement in the award scheme;
  • Create a positive profile for the Birds Directive among participating farmers and members of their local communities, as well as more widely among farmers and the public, through promotional activities.
  • Specifically, the project aimed to engage with more than 120 000 farmers annually through promotional and media activities and media; and to engage with more than 3 million members of the general public annually through targeted media work highlighting the importance of protecting both rare and widespread farmland birds in accordance with the Birds Directive.


    The Birds Directive project offered direct advice to farmers, acknowledging that this is most effective way to influence farmer behaviour and land management. It engaged directly with 2 183 farmers through the provision of surveys and advice, and the results of these surveys led to follow-up advisory visits in all 11 target regions. Those teams working in the areas that were established under the project did especially well. Overall, the project provided direct advice to over 1 000 farmers (the target was 330) covering an area of over 200 000 ha (the target was 45 000 ha). It has been estimated that 50% of this area is now covered by agri-environment schemes as a result of this project (100 000 ha) and that at least 10% of the land in these schemes is managed to benefit wildlife (10 000 ha of agri-environment options).

    The beneficiary, the RSPB, however, learnt the limits of what it can achieve by itself. It estimated that just 3% of the agricultural area of the UK could be reached. Not only did it discover that it was impossible to reach enough farmers to make a difference but the mechanism of delivery was quite costly and depended entirely on hundreds of volunteers to deliver the surveys. As a result, the project identified 27 focus areas (i.e. those areas with the highest densities of target species of farmland birds), which cover a total of around 5% of the agricultural area of the UK, and it targeted advice to these areas.

    Nevertheless, the free bird surveys were shown to be an effective way of generating interest among farmers in their wildlife. These surveys monitoring bird populations, moreover, demonstrate the benefits of adopting the advice. In order to help further spread these results, the project encouraged farmers to become advocates of the RSPB advice. It is much more effective if farmers themselves argue in favour of wildlife-friendly farming than the RSPB or any other organisation makes the case. The beneficiary wants farmers to be the voice of the focus areas in the future.

    Focusing direct effort to 5% of the agricultural area, however, will not halt biodiversity loss at a national level. The project addressed this concern by working in partnership with others bodies giving environmental advice to farmers. The project established a group of technical partners including seven other specialist conservation organisations (Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and The Wildlife Trusts). The group produced joint advisory materials (toolkits) to support the greatest possible range of farmland biodiversity. These toolkits are available to farmers and their advisers. Furthermore, the project engaged with statutory organisations in England to help develop the New Environmental Land Management Scheme, which will replace the current agri-environment schemes in 2015.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Birds
Biodiversity issues - High Nature Value farmland


rural area‚  survey‚  nature conservation‚  endangered species‚  agricultural method‚  biodiversity

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description The RSPB is a charity registered in the UK. Its mission is to work for a healthy environment rich in birds and other wildlife. The RSPB has more than one million subscribing members, and is the largest wildlife conservation NGO in Europe. It manages more than 200 nature reserves throughout the UK, covering a total area of more than 137 000 ha.
Partners None


Project reference LIFE08 INF/UK/000214
Duration 01-JAN-2010 to 30-SEP -2013
Total budget 1,692,547.00 €
EU contribution 846,273.00 €
Project location North(United Kingdom) Yorkshire and Humberside(United Kingdom) East Midlands(United Kingdom) East Anglia(United Kingdom) South East (UK)(United Kingdom) South West (UK)(United Kingdom) West Midlands(United Kingdom) North West (UK)(United Kingdom) Wales(United Kingdom) Scotland(United Kingdom) Northern Ireland(United Kingdom)


Read more:

Brochure "Field of View November 2010" (949KB)
Brochure "Field of View November 2011 Northern Irl" (1.08MB)
Brochure "Cnoi Cil Rhyfin Olaf" (Welsh) (861KB)
Brochure "Field of View Final Issue 2" (851KB)
Brochure "Field of View Final Issue" (977KB)
Brochure "Cnoi Cil TACHWEDD 2011" (Welsh) (851KB)
Brochure "Field of view November 2011 Scotland" (0.99MB)
Brochure "Field of View November 2012 England" (593KB)
Brochure "Field of View Dececmber 2012 Scotland" (638KB)
Brochure "Field of View November 2011 England" (1.292KB)
Brochure "Field of View November 2011 Wales" (802KB)
Brochure "Field of View December 2012 Wales" (611KB)
Brochure "Cnoi Cil RHAGFYR 2012" (Welsh)(608KB)
Brochure "Field of View November 2012 Northern Irl" (676KB)
Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Communication Plan After-LIFE Communication Plan
Publication: Layman report Layman Report (995KB)
Publication: Technical report Project's Final technical report (1.204KB)
Video link Project's video: "The Nature of Farming Awards - A Celebration of Wildlife-Friendly Farmers" (5'04")


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version