Skylarks and linnets
Yesterday, we went on the High Peak Trail from Friden to Minninglow. We heard lots of skylarks and saw one singing in flight, rising up and then dropping back down to the ground. In the UK, the population halved during the 1990s, and is still declining. In the preferred habitat of farmland, skylarks declined by 75% between 1972 and 1996. The main cause of this decline is considered to be the widespread switch from spring to autumn-sown cereals, which has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of chicks raised each year. Autumn-sown cereals are taller and denser throughout the season. Fewer birds nest there, and those that do are unable to raise as many broods as birds in spring-sown crops. Many nesting attempts are on or close to tramlines (tractor tracks that are used to apply the many sprays to the crop), which makes the nests vulnerable to ground predators. Winter food supply is also scarce in the absence of stubbles, which are favourite feeding places. Increased use of insecticides and weedkillers are likely to remove an important part of the food source. In grassland habitats intensification has also been detrimental. Increased stocking densities on grazing land have made the grass too short for skylarks, and increased the risk of nests being trampled. A switch from hay to silage has resulted in many nests being destroyed by the cutting machinery, since the period between cuts is often too short for successful nesting. Despite this decline, skylarks seem to be thriving in this part of Derbyshire. There were lots of meadow pipits and buzzards as well.
On the way back, we saw a flock of linnets feeding in the mud. There calls are a lot like a goldfinch’s call and the males have pink on the chest. Like skylarks, they are also farmland species and have declined as well. The breeding population of Linnets declined steeply between 1965 and 1985, before the last breeding and winter atlases, and there has been less change in recent years. Numbers nationally then rose slightly in the ten years after 1985, possibly associated with the increased cultivation of oilseed rape. Since 1994, when the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) started, we have been able to detect regionally-different trajectories, with English and Welsh populations exhibiting a decline of slightly more than 30%, Scottish populations going up by 10% and a doubling in Northern Ireland.