Lark plots give skylarks a place to forage

Lark plots have a positive effect on the number of skylarks throughout the entire breeding season. This has been shown in a new report produced by Lantmännen in consultation with WWF, BirdLife Sweden and researchers at SLU.

Skylarks can climb up to 200 metres and sing non-stop for over an hour at a time, although most birds ceiling at around 100 metres and sing for four minutes on average.

Over the last 40 years, Sweden has lost three out of four skylarks due to changes in the farming landscape, with larger fields and densely grown crops. To reverse this trend, Swedish farmers around the country have started to leave patches undrilled in arable fields where larks can land and forage for food, so-called lark plots. Lark plots are one of the criteria in Lantmännen’s sustainable cultivation concept, Climate & Nature.

Lark plots are reversing declining numbers

Undrilled lark plots in arable fields have now been shown to create the variation skylarks need and are helping to reverse the decline in the lark population. The number of territorial skylarks has increased by up to 60 percent in fields with lark plots, according to a new study produced by researchers at SLU, together with WWF, BirdLife Sweden and Lantmännen.

Did you know that... Skylarks can climb up to 200 metres and sing non-stop for over an hour at a time, although most birds ceiling at around 100 metres and sing for four minutes on average.

“Biological diversity and well-functioning ecosystem services are important elements in the work Lantmännen does to promote sustainable development.”

Clear effect on skylark numbers

The effects of lark plots has been investigated in a study undertaken during three breeding seasons from 2015–2017 in winter wheat fields in farms in Skåne, Västergötland, Östergötland and Uppland. The study observed fields with and without established lark plots on each farm.

In total, 38 farms and 113 fields, of which 64 had and 49 did not have lark plots, were included in the study. The study shows that lark plots have a clear impact on the number of skylarks in the areas investigated. There are more breeding larks in fields with lark plots, younger probably survive and it would appear that larks from neighbouring areas look for fields with lark plots.

Driving development in the right direction

Pär-Johan Lööf, project manager of Innovation at Lantmännen Research and Development, has helped produce the report on behalf of Lantmännen and is, himself, a keen and passionate birdwatcher. He is also involved in the majority of other innovation projects aimed at promoting biodiversity.

“Biological diversity and well-functioning eco system services are important elements in the work Lantmännen does to promote sustainable development. Lark plots, which are part of our cultivation concept Climate & Nature, offer valuable benefits to farmers, the environment and skylarks, and these new findings demonstrate that together, we are driving development in the right direction,” he says.

Number of skylark territories is growing

The number of skylark territories per hectare (average value +/– margin of error) in fields with and without (control) lark plots on farms in Halland, Östergötland, Skåne, Uppland and Västergötland.
“In other words, making life better for skylarks can also make life better for us humans.”

Skylarks are an endangered species

Each spring, skylarks arrive in Sweden and sing above fields and meadows. They are a sign of biological diversity and a functioning eco system. Skylarks are an endangered species, however. Over the past 40 years, skylarks have halved in number throughout Europe. In Sweden, three quarters of the skylark population has disappeared over the same period.

Good indicator of type of landscape

There is far more to reversing the decline in lark numbers than simply to preserve a species dear to our hearts. Skylarks live their entire lives in an arable landscape and can be seen as a good indicator of the state of this type of landscape as a whole. In other words, making life better for skylarks can also make life better for us humans.

Lark plots benefit larks and farmers alike

Finding a system that can accommodate both efficient food production and biodiversity along with ecosystem services such as water regulation, soil formation and pollination is very important. This is already possible today with the development of more sustainable methods of cultivation.