Economic pressures from increased commodity prices and the growing demand for land for biomass plantations led to the abolition of compulsory set-aside fields in the European Union in 2008, affecting ca. 10% of total agricultural area. This area is now managed more intensively, and this is expected to adversely affect farmland biodiversity. Unfortunately, no mitigation of set-aside loss was introduced. Here we examined, whether or not set-aside fields managed in voluntary agri-environment schemes have the potential to improve farmland bird populations, as indicators of farmland biodiversity. We chose one, two and three year-old set-aside fields sown by a grass–legume mixture when established and selected winter cereal fields and semi-natural grasslands in Hungary as control sites. Relative abundance of birds was assessed; species were assigned to feeding guilds and classified according to their European conservation status. Species richness of herbaceous plants, cover of bare ground and vegetation height were used as covariates. Set-aside fields had higher species richness and abundance of birds compared to the adjacent winter cereal fields, similar to semi-natural grasslands. We found a positive correlation between set-aside age and farmland bird species richness and abundance. This can be explained mainly by the altered vegetation, especially the shorter vegetation height from the second year in the set-aside fields. We found no difference in the distribution pattern of species richness and abundance between feeding guilds according to set-aside age and habitat types. The wide scale application of voluntary set-aside management in agri-environment programs therefore has a high potential to mitigate the negative effects from the loss of compulsory set-aside schemes, and thus need the allocation of considerable resources in the forthcoming reformed CAP.
Kovács-Hostyánszki A, Báldi A: Set-aside fields in agri-environment ... (2012)
Kovács-Hostyánszki Anikó, Báldi András
Set-aside fields in agri-environment schemes can replace the market-driven abolishment of fallows
Biological Conservation, 152: pp. 196-203.
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