Monitoring the landscape of the Northern lapwing
Many of the effects of agricultural landscape changes have been well documented. Farmland birds, for example, have been reported to be in decline all over Europe. Factors explaining these declines include changes in agriculture, whether it be in use of chemicals, production systems or landscape/land use structure e.g. due to amalgamation of farms. In Norway, the agricultural landscape faced large-scale intensification processes in the late 1960s, with a multitude of landscape effects including draining of wet meadows, closing ditches and removal of small biotopes seen as hindrances to modern machinery. Many of these undoubtedly had an effect on farmland birds. However, details of the effects of these changes on biodiversity are difficult to ascertain, as hardly any information on species exists from before the changes, except for a few uncoordinated surveys. Monitoring of agricultural landscapes in Norway was not initiated until the late 1990s and monitoring of farmland birds started in 2000. Since then, the bird monitoring is well on the way towards completing the fourth repeated visit to the approximately 1000 survey points distributed on nearly 130 monitoring squares (1km2) located throughout the Norwegian agricultural landscape.
This paper presents findings from the landscape monitoring program in general, and the breeding bird monitoring in particular. In total, more than 50 000 breeding pairs of birds have been recorded, belonging to more than 150 species. The results document how agriculture contributes positively towards the occurrence of a number of bird species in Norway. Occurrence of these farmland birds is significantly correlated with the proportion of agricultural land in the monitoring squares and spatial heterogeneity of biotopes. One example is the Northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus). For this species, in contrast to results from other countries in Europe, no significant overall negative trend has been detected in our monitoring. There is, however, some between-year variation, as well as pronounced variation between the monitoring squares. This paper will discuss possible interpretations of these results, and some of the methodological and communication challenges associated with the bird monitoring. Understanding effects of landscape changes appears as important as ever, because although the majority of agricultural landscape changes happened during a relatively short period of time some decades ago, there are still ongoing changes. For instance, the number of active farms and farmers has continued to decline, and field size has continued to increase. And as agriculture again is directing its focus more on production quantities than amenity values and multifunctionality, we can at least assure that we have the tools we need to document effects of possible future changes.