What explains property-level variation in avian diversity? An inter-disciplinary approach.
Modern farmed landscapes have witnessed substantial losses in biodiversity principally driven by the ecological changes associated with agricultural intensification. The causes of declines are often well described, but current management practices seem unlikely to deliver the EU-wide policy objective of halting biodiversity losses. Available evidence suggests that property-scale factors can be influential in shaping patterns of biodiversity; however, they are rarely included in studies. Using 44 upland farms in the Peak District, northern England, we investigate the roles of ecological, agricultural and socio-economic factors in determining avian species richness, for the first time incorporating information from all three influences. Although we might expect that habitat quality would be the main factor affecting species richness, these variables had little influence. The landscape context of each property was unimportant in explaining any of the three measures of species richness (Total, Upland and Conservation Concern) used here. Within-property habitat quality did explain 42% of the variation in richness of upland specialist species, but had no influence on Total or Conservation Concern Richness. Socio-economic circumstances of farms alone accounted for 24% of the variation in Total Richness, with land tenure and labour inputs important predictors of avian diversity. However, net income, rental value and the level of Agri-Environment Scheme (AES) payments did not play a role in predicting species richness. Farm management variables, including many of the main prescriptions outlined in AES, accounted for 23% of the variation in the richness of species of Conservation Concern, but less than 10% for Total Richness. However, no farm management variable alone was shown to offer better predictive power of avian species richness than random. Synthesis and applications. The agricultural landscape is managed by a mosaic of landowners, all of whom can influence biodiversity conservation. We demonstrate that variation at the property-scale in habitat, management and socio-economics can feed into determining patterns of biodiversity. Currently, farmland conservation policy largely assumes that socio-economic barriers and financial costs of implementing conservation measures are constant. Incorporating a consideration of the varying circumstances of individual properties into policy design is likely to result in substantial biodiversity gains.