Field margin management is a common measure employed in Europe to support farmland bird populations. In this study we found and analysed 237 nests of the Skylark Alauda arvensis in the Netherlands over a period of 6 years to determine the effects of arable field margins and breeding crop on nest-level reproductive success. Additionally, the effect of field margins on predation was investigated and food availability in crops and field margins was compared. Neither clutch size, nest survival nor nestling body weight were improved by field margin availability, irrespective of the breeding crop used. However, the choice of breeding crop had important effects. Nestling weight was significantly lower in cereals than in grassland and lucerne, corresponding with the low prey densities present in cereals. Nest survival was lowest in grassland due to frequent silage cutting. Predation rates were highest in cereals but were not affected by field margin proximity. The highest reproductive success was achieved in lucerne, which was mown twice a year and retained a suitable height for breeding throughout the breeding season. We conclude that field margins are not sufficient to maintain a Skylark population in this intensively farmed area. The presumably more subtle effects of increased food availability cannot compensate for the high nest failure rates resulting from agricultural operations and predation. In this and similar areas, the provisioning of safe nesting habitat throughout the breeding season is essential to improve breeding performance. Our research suggests that this can be achieved by reducing the frequency of silage cutting on grassland and by increasing the surface area of lucerne.
- Agri-environment Conservation Nestling condition Passerine Predation Reproduction agri-environment scheme agricultural intensification nest success lowland farmland arable farmland southern england bird populations mayfield method food resources growth-rates Zoology