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Pond management enhances the local abundance and species richness of farmland bird communities

Lewis-Phillips, Jonathan, Brooks, Steve, Sayer, Carl Derek, McCrea, Rachel, Siriwardena, Gavin, Axmacher, Jan Christoph
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.273 pp. 130-140
agri-environmental policy, agricultural land, aquatic plants, birds, foraging, habitat conservation, habitats, intensive farming, invertebrates, land use, landscapes, parental behavior, ponds, species richness, summer, wildlife, woodlands, United Kingdom
Agricultural intensification and the associated loss of non-cropped habitats have caused a major decline in UK farmland bird populations since the 1970s. As a consequence, there is an urgent need to implement effective conservation and habitat restoration measures in agricultural landscapes. Over the last 40–50 years, due to the cessation of traditional management practices, the majority of UK farmland ponds have become highly terrestrialised, resulting in major reductions in the diversity and abundance of aquatic plant and invertebrate assemblages. Recent research undertaken at farmland ponds in early summer, has shown restored open-canopy, macrophyte-dominated ponds support an increased abundance and diversity of farmland birds, compared to non-managed, overgrown ponds.Here, we expand on this previous research with a year-long field study to assess the implications of pond management for farmland birds by comparing bird diversity, abundance and activity at managed open-canopy ponds with those at unmanaged overgrown ponds. Driven strongly by pond management and connectivity to semi-natural landscape features such as hedgerows and woodland patches, bird abundance and species richness, as well as foraging and parental behaviour, were all significantly higher at managed open-canopy ponds. Further, a wider landscape analysis found that terrestrial land-use patterns in the vicinity of the ponds were not significant predictors of bird communities at the pond sites.In light of the numerous potential benefits to conservation-listed birds and other wildlife, we conclude that farmland pond management has been undervalued as a conservation measure to assist farmland birds. Consequently, we conclude that future agri-environment schemes, should more fully embrace farmland ponds.