Pesticides and fertilizers cause bird decline

A huge study has concluded that intensive agriculture, particularly the use of pesticides and fertilizers, is behind significant declines in bird populations.

The study measured the impact of land use and climate changes on 170 bird species monitored at 20,000 sites across 28 European countries over 37 years. Between 1980 and 2016, numbers of European farmland bird species more than halved.

The study is published by the science journal PNAS (the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA).

One of the study’s key findings is that modern intensive farming practices have an extremely negative impact on bird species across Europe. Researchers found that intensification, measured by the high use of pesticides and fertilizers, has led to the decline of birds that rely on invertebrates for food. Species such as Swift, Yellow Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher were particularly badly affected.

How many more studies do we need before action is taken?

The report calls for urgent action by governments to support farmers in reducing pesticide use and adopting nature-friendly practices. It underlines the need for nature-friendly farming to become the norm, for governments to support farmers in reducing pesticide use and adopting nature-friendly principles, and at the same time improve testing and understanding of exactly what chemicals are being used on the land.

But this is not the first report to point the finger at pesticides and fertilizers. How many reports need to be published before action is taken?

But don’t we need to use pesticides and fertilizers?

No! Farmers and land managers in many countries are moving towards a nature-friendly approach that is helping nature to rebound, producing healthy food and profits, and contributing to climate change goals.

For example, take a peek over the hedge at the 181-hectare Hope Farm in south Cambridgeshire, England. Since the adoption in 2000 of nature-friendly farming practices, the farm has seen:

  • A 177% increase in the number of farmland breeding bird territories on site
  • A 15x increase in winter bird species.
  • A nearly 400% increase in butterfly numbers

And all while maintaining a profitable farm!

Nature-friendly farming is surely the way to go.


  1. It’s a wonder any farmland birds (and others) are surviving at all! Fields around us have, in recent years, been sprayed off in spring – turning the vegetation orange, and then birds, including shelduck and gulls, having been feeding on invertebrates and anything else left dead and /or exposed. Whatever is in the spray must surely be taken down to the plant roots and therefore affecting subsoil invertebrates too. Then the crop is sown and sprayed at various times with fungicides and insecticides – often as prophylactics rather than because of necessity.

    Sadly, ordinary people hear about wildlife-friendly farming, then assume that the solution has been found and that all farmers are doing things that way. Oh, we have so far to go yet . . . Sometimes I go out and just want to scream in despair. I feel all the years I’ve been working in conservation haven’t really achieved anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • These are distressing images that you describe Annie. I too feel despair sometimes when I read of the ways humans are destroying the planet. As regards farmland, I remember as a boy walking around my local fields in the early 1970s and still recall flocks of lapwings, family groups of partridges, pheasants everywhere, barn owls, flocks of finches, … I returned a few years back to witness silence and emptiness. But we have to keep hoping and doing our bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Humans may survive another 100 years or they not. The odds right now are against it. At least living in civilized, industrial societies as we have now. We may go back to hunting and gathering, if anyone is alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes Ernest, it’s difficult not to feel gloomy about the long-term future of the human race, especially with the billions being spent on needless wars when we need that money to be spent on saving the planet. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. You have an interesting blog too.


    • Indeed Archer, we need governments to step up. Unfortunately, neither environmental or long-term thinking is commonly found in the thinking of politicians.


  3. We’re assuming that it’s pesticides causing our swift population to decline year on year. With so many old barns and so on to nest in, actual places to nest aren’t the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

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