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Agri-environment schemes and bats

The now widely recognised detrimental impact of intensified agriculture on biodiversity has led to a shift away from government subsidies encouraging production and to the introduction of agri-environment schemes (AES) (Krebs et al. 1999, Kleijn & Sutherland 2003). These schemes provide payments to farmers who adopt land management and farm practices that are beneficial to the environment. Since 2005 there has been widespread uptake of schemes in England: for example by 2009 66% of farmland was enrolled in a scheme and 41% of hedgerows were managed under a scheme (Natural England 2009). In 2012 AES guidance in England was updated to include information for farmers on the requirements of bats and the management options they could choose which may benefit them (Natural England 2012). These include enhanced hedgerow management, developing strips of scrub along woodland edges and establishment of hedgerow trees.

Across Europe there have been concerns about inadequate ecological evaluation of AES (Kleijn & Sutherland 2003, Primdahl et al. 2003) and the outcomes of those schemes that have been evaluated have been mixed, with common species often benefitting more than rarer species (e.g. Kleijn et al. 2006). For bats, Fuentes-Montemayor et al. (2011) studied the effect of AES in Scotland and found that pipistrelle bats did not benefit from a combination of AES prescriptions, including the management of field margins and water margins, as well as hedgerow cutting regimes, with overall levels of bat activity being lower (by 40–50%) on farms under AES than those not participating in schemes. There have been few studies on the benefits of specific AES management prescriptions on bat activity. However, there is evidence that a range of bat species benefit from hedgerow management that results in larger, bushy hedgerows.

Trees in hedgerows

In England in 2010 an AES option was added to reward landowners for maintaining hedgerow trees. There is evidence that some bat species are more active around hedgerows with trees (e.g. Linton 2010) and therefore bats may benefit from these measures. Boughey et al. (2011) found that although common pipistrelle did not distinguish between hedgerows with or without trees, linear features with trees were preferred by soprano pipistrelle. The use of linear features by this species was affected by the density of trees within the feature, as well as the distance from the nearest woodland and results suggested that hedgerows without trees were utilised only when higher quality habitats were unavailable.

The Greater Horseshoe Bat Project

The Greater Horseshoe Bat Project which ran between 1998 and 2003 provided advice for landowners in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset on the management of key greater horseshoe bat foraging areas. Landowners were encouraged to enter into agreements of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS), which included management options thought to benefit the species. CSS agreements included management options aimed at improving foraging areas such as reverting arable land to grazed grassland, creating wide grassy margins in arable fields and management of permanent pasture and hay meadows with targeted grazing regimes to increase prey populations. Over the same period, numbers of bats in greater horseshoe bat roosts increased significantly in Devon and it has been suggested that therefore the project was successful (Longley 2003), although other factors such as climate change may also have played a part.

 

References

Boughey, KL, Lake, IR, Haysom, KA, Dolman, PM (2011b) Improving the biodiversity benefits of hedgerows: How physical characteristics and the proximity of foraging habitat affect the use of linear features by bats. Biological Conservation 144: 1790-1798

Fuentes-Montemayor E, Goulson D, Park KJ (2011b) Pipistrelle bats and their prey do not benefit from four widely applied agri-environment management prescriptions. Biological Conservation 144: 2233-2246

Krebs JR, Wilson JD, Bradbury RB, Siriwardena GM (1999) The second silent spring? Nature 400: 611-612

Kleijn D, Sutherland WJ (2003) How effective are European agri-environment schemes in conserving and promoting biodiversity? Journal of Applied Ecology 40: 947-969

Kleijn D, Baquero RA, Clough Y, Día M, De Esteban J, Fernández F (2006) Mixed biodiversity benefits of agri-environment schemes in five European countries. Ecology Letters 9: 243-254

Linton DM (2009) Bat ecology and conservation in lowland farmland. PhD Thesis, University of Oxford, UK

Longley M (2003) Greater horseshoe bat project 1998-2003: English Nature Research Report 532. English Nature

Natural England (2009) Agri-environment schemes in England 2009: A review of results and effectiveness. Natural England

Natural England (2012) Entry Level Stewardship: Environmental Stewardship Handbook, 4th ed. Natural England 

Primdahl J, Peco B, Schramek J, Andersen E, Onate JJ (2003) Environmental effects of agri-environment schemes in Western Europe. Journal of Environmental Management 67: 129-138

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