How organic animal farms increase the numbers of birds in agricultural environments

An image to illustrate the concept of organic animal farms in proximity to birds
© iStock/Elena_Fox

The proximity of organic animal farms has increased the numbers of birds in agricultural environments, a study in Finland found.

The University of Helsinki study analysed the effect of the number of organic animal farms on the number of birds found in agricultural environments, and assessed how the allocation of biodiversity funding could be improved by this finding.

Organic animal farms

The production animals on all organic farms have access to pastures. In Finland, the majority of organic animal farms are farms for cattle which graze during the summer months. Their complex vegetation and presence of manure means that there are many insects in pasture land, which provides more food for birds. The study showed that this is particularly beneficial for insectivore birds, for example swallows and starlings.

Endangered birds

In Finland and elsewhere in Europe, the abundance of bird species in agricultural environments has decreased. There are a range of EU agri-environment-climate subsidies which are granted to agricultural producers to implement measures on the basis that they are environmentally beneficial. However, the potential effects on biodiversity at national levels are not always investigated fully.

Aleksi Lehikoinen, an Academy of Finland research fellow at the Finnish Museum of Natural History Luomus, commented: “Due to decreasing numbers, the common swallow and house martin have been declared as endangered species in Finland, a situation that could be improved by increasing the share of organic animal farms. This is something which everyone can influence through their daily purchase decisions and by favouring organic produce.”

Biodiversity funding

Irina Herzon, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, explained: “Agricultural subsidies constitute a substantial portion of the EU’s budget, and are the most significant form of funding for improving natural conditions. Funding should be allocated to measures that benefit biodiversity the most.”

The study concluded: “Overall, these findings highlight the potential positive impact that some compensatory measures, such as organic animal farming, may have on wildlife. Traditional animal husbandry is based on grazing of animals and restriction on external inputs, similarly to what is stipulated under organic production contract. As such, traditional animal husbandry may represent an effective landscape management tool for restoring or maintaining threatened species and ecosystems in rural areas of the EU.”

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