Are birds of prey to blame for farmland bird declines?

Norfolk farmer Richard Banham has spotted a growing number of buzzards over the land he manages

Norfolk farmer Richard Banham has spotted a growing number of buzzards and other birds of prey over the land he manages near Wymondham - Credit: David Brooker / iWitness24

A long-serving Norfolk farmer has blamed the decline of some much-loved farmland birds on a rising number of raptors hunting them.

Richard Banham is foreman at Park Farm at Silfield, near Wymondham.

The 61-year-old has worked all his life in agriculture, and has become concerned by the growing numbers of birds of prey circling over the land.

Richard Banham is foreman at Park Farm at Silfield, near Wymondham

Richard Banham is foreman at Park Farm at Silfield, near Wymondham - Credit: Richard Banham

He said this has prompted the loss of songbirds and farmland species - although RSPB conservationists said the declines stem from "wider landscape problems", including land use change and lack of habitats.

Mr Banham said: "A month ago, I saw seven big birds of prey on one 70-acre field - five buzzards and a pair of red kites. 

"We've got 2,000 acres here and there are countless buzzards flying around on the thermals any day you look. Ground-nesting birds can't survive with all these buzzards around.

"At harvest time, we have young skylarks coming out of the crop in front of the combine and kestrels were just taking them one by one. 

"Last year we had two nesting pairs of lapwing, and this year I have not seen one. We live on the farm and there are no songbirds coming onto our bird table."

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He added: "For many years, farmers have been blamed for the dwindling numbers of garden birds, saying it's due to the chemicals we use, and intensive farming practices. Well, maybe not."

Philip Pearson, RSPB senior conservation officer, said there was "no evidence" that predators such as buzzards and red kites were responsible for the decline of garden or farmland birds.

A red kite in flight

A red kite in flight - Credit: Susan Cockaday / iWitness24

“Over half of England’s most threatened breeding species nest on or near the ground, including curlew, little tern, nightjar and lapwing," he said.

"These threatened species are under increasing pressure due to habitat loss, predators and climate change.

“Red kites and buzzards are primarily scavengers, feeding mainly on dead animals (carrion) and worms, though they also eat small mammals and occasionally birds. However, there is no evidence to suggest either species is responsible for declines in garden or farmland birds.

“Where evidence of these declines exists, it normally points towards land use changes and their impact on food availability. To address these declines we need to look at the wider landscape problems, which includes creating suitable habitat at scale to ensure that ground-nesting birds have permanent access to safe nesting habitat, alongside a good summer and winter food supply.

“Farmers can help by looking at government scheme options that provide food and nesting habitat for ground-nesting birds. These are essential if we are to see national declines reversed."