Birds in willow short-rotation coppice compared to other arable crops in central England and a review of bird census data from energy crops in the UK
We present the results of spring and winter surveys of birds using 22 willow short-rotation coppice ( SRC) fields and 22 paired arable or grassland controls over a 5 year period in central and northern England. The study sites were linked to the first commercial wood-fuelled electricity plant in Yorkshire and were managed commercially. We use the findings of this study, in the context of other work on birds in energy crops, to suggest how birds may be affected by commercial cropping of SRC or energy grasses on UK farmland. For willow SRC, most existing farmland species were not completely displaced by SRC cropping. Even farmland specialists such as Skylark Alauda arvensis used cut SRC fields. Some species characteristic of scrub and wood-type habitats were attracted onto farmland by SRC. Birds were more abundant in hedgerows next to SRC than in those adjoining arable or grass. The interior of large SRC plots contained fewer birds than the edge-zone (< 50 m). In winter, the same resident species occured in SRC as the summer, plus winter migrants such as Snipe Gallinago gallinago and Fieldfare Turdus pilaris. Overall, more individuals and species were recorded in and around SRC than equivalent arable or grassland throughout the year. Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava and certain locally occurring farmland specialists may be displaced by SRC plantations. Equivalent census data for energy grasses in the UK are not available. The impact of large regional energy crop developments on birds is not known. We do not know if species commonly recorded in these crops survive and breed well so population effects are unknown. However SRC crops are often weedy and insect rich and hence have potential as foraging habitats in summer and winter. The scope for agri-environment schemes to include energy crops is discussed.
Author(s): Sage, R; Cunningham, M; Boatman, N