Recent changes in agricultural landscape and bird populations in Latvia: impacts and prospects of EU agricultural policy

Aunins A., Priednieks J.

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Since Latvia joined the EU in 2004, the amount of funds allocated to the agricultural sector has increased substantially. The different measures included in the national Rural Development Plan serve as driving forces causing a rapid change in agricultural land use and farming practices. We used data from the Latvian Farmland bird monitoring scheme to describe the ongoing changes on Latvian farmland. We compared population trends of 54 individual species and species groups as well as species richness, diversity and total bird abundance between the periods 1995-2003 (period 1) and 2003-2006 (period 2). Pairwise comparisons of the trends of all the analysed species between the two periods showed that trends in period 2 were lower than in period 1 and this difference was signifcant. Splitting the species into six ecological groups, the pattern was consistent in all groups. However the differences were signifcant only in the “ShrubEdge” and “Forest” groups and near signifcant in the “Open” group. The trend comparisons grouping species by their wintering areas and main food sources also showed a similar pattern, however, the differences were signifcant only in the species wintering in SubSaharan Africa and insectivore group. Overall bird abundance as well as farmland bird abundance declined in period 2 and so did farmland bird species richness and diversity. Eleven species declined and only fve species increased statistically signifcantly in the period 2 contrasting with four and 26 species in the period 1, respectively. The observed changes can be linked to ongoing changes on Latvian farmland: intensifcation, restoration of the overgrown areas as well as removal of various landscape elements to increase the “eligible” area for EU subsidies. Although these changes do not cause immediate threat to farmland birds, future development is very important.