Land use and the conservation of farmland birds


Walter Rossing (FSE Wageningen UR)
Jules Bos (PRI Wageningen UR)
David Kleijn (Alterra Wageningen UR)
Henk Sierdsema (SOVON, Nijmegen)

There is a possibility to combine the project with a thesis at the Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Group of Wageningen UR (prof. dr. Frank Berendse)


During the last three decades there have been widespread and severe declines of farmland bird populations and other wildlife in agricultural areas. These declines have been attributed to the general process of agricultural intensification. With farmland constituting the single largest habitat in Europe, the continental-scale effects of agricultural intensification on biodiversity may be comparable with potential effects of climate change. Addressing biodiversity loss on European farmland therefore is a major societal issue.


The comprehensive knowledge base for some farmland bird species (e.g. Grey partridge (Perdix perdix), Skylark (Alauda arvensis)) allows the modelling of population density at landscape scale as a function of landscape composition and/or land use in terms of e.g. cultivated crops, field size, agricultural management and supply of semi-natural habitats. This allows the evaluation of alternative landscape configurations in terms of bird conservation relative to other objectives of land use, for instance those related to carbon sequestration, surface water storage and agricultural production. Such integrated analyses are rare due to fragmentation of knowledge along disciplinary divides and limited interest among scientists in design-oriented approaches. At the same time integration of information and demonstration of trade-offs and synergies can support learning and negotiation processes which by many are deemed essential to develop new perspectives for systems management.

proposal farmlandbirds



  1. To develop a model of regional farmland bird populations as influenced by landscape composition and regional land use
  2. To calibrate and evaluate the model using the database of SOVON (


  • Become familiar with information in the literature on population ecology of the species in agricultural landscapes
  • Become familiar with data on the species in the SOVON database
  • Develop a model (simulation or regression) based on available knowledg
  • Test the model using available data for a specific landscape

Experiences gained

  • Develop a work plan
  • Introduction to literature and data on farmland bird population ecology and modelling of population dynamics
  • Development of a model, given the data
  • Analysis of experimental data using the mode
  • Write scientific paper or report; colloquium