Sunday, 30 December 2018

Study: Bird population decline accelerates after Czech EU entry

ČTK |
24 July 2018

Prague, July 23 (CTK) - The bird population has been declining in Czech farmland, with the decline accelerating since the country's EU entry in 2004, experts from Charles University's Faculty of Sciences write in a study published by the Conservation Letters international journal.

The joint European policy and system of agricultural subsidies are unfavourable to birds and wildlife, the study says, cited by the Czech Society for Ornithology (CSO).

The bird population size is a significant indicator of healthy nature and natural diversity.

In Europe, the farmland bird populations have been declining since the 1970s.

In the late 20th century, "the decline was sharper in west European countries and was ascribed to their joining the EU's single agricultural policy, which is based on the subsidising of the highest possible number of farm enterprises," the ornithologists said.

To raise crops, farmers now use more effective fertilisers and pesticides. Natural biotopes for birds have been disappearing together with their offer of bird food and nesting places," Jiri Reif, the study's leading author, said.

He said it initially seemed that the decline in biodiversity might be milder in east European states, because their agriculture was not intensified after the fall of the totalitarian regimes in the 1990s and the bird population in these countries even grew for some time then.

However, it started declining after these countries entered the EU.

To map the decline, the researchers used the bird population data as collected by volunteers from 1982.

"The data cover sufficiently long periods both before and after the Czech EU entry. At the same time, we analysed the development of the hectare crop of the most widespread harvested plants that cover most of the country's arable land, as a criterion for farming's intensity," Reif said.

The crop has risen by about one quarter since 2004, while the number of birds has fallen by 30 percent.

The researchers also checked possible other causes behind the decline, but the EU entry turned out to be the main factor.

"It is also turning out that the higher the farming intensity is, the smaller the farmland bird population is in the following year," Reif said.

The EU's joint agricultural policy is unfavourable to Czech nature. It should put stronger emphasis on the preservation of wildlife, ornithologists say.

CSO director Zdenek Vermouzek said the Czechs do need the EU, whose agricultural policy, however, urgently needs a reform. It is the right time to start a debate on the issue now that negotiations on the EU budget for 2021-2027 are underway, he said.

The Environment Ministry's latest state-of-the-environment report said that the farmland bird population dropped by 33.5 percent from 1982 to 2017, while the population of wood bird species dropped by 15 percent. The bird "census" involves several dozens of species that commonly occur in the Czech farmland and woods.

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