Skylark (Alauda arvensis) - Species Action Plan

Ref 1/S5 Species Action Plan 5
Plan Author: RSPB
Plan Co-ordinator: Farmland BAP
Topic Group
Plan Leader: RSPB
Final Draft 31 December 1998
Revised Final Draft January 2006

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • One of the most widespread birds of the British Isles, with over 2 million breeding pairs, the resident population is joined in winter by a significant proportion of the northern European population - possibly up to 25 million individuals. The UK breeding population of skylark on lowland farmland declined by 61% between 1977 and 2002, and continues to decline.
  • The skylark is protected under the EC Birds Directive and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Norfolk Status

  • Still widespread in Norfolk as a breeding and wintering bird throughout the open countryside despite a likely decline in numbers in the county (it is not possible to measure population size or trends on a county level). In the Norfolk Bird Atlas (Kelly 1986), it was found in 97% of 2km squares, the blank squares being built up, plantations or wetlands. Early work for the new Norfolk Atlas suggests the picture is currently much the same.

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Current factors causing loss or decline in Norfolk

  • Management of arable fields has reduced ephemeral weeds and insect prey through the use of ever more efficient pesticides (including insecticides and herbicides).
  • Decrease in livestock levels.
  • An increased trend to autumn-sown cereals has reduced the number of essential winter stubble fields and may provide unsuitable breeding habitat in comparison with spring-sown varieties.
  • Conversion of grassland to intensively-farmed arable.
  • Intensive management of grasslands.
  • Silage and haylage making replacing hay making, which destroys nests and exposes incubating skylarks and young to predators.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Intensive research into the cause of the decline of skylarks, including work in North Norfolk, has been completed. Recent research has been directed towards finding a cost-effective means of reversing the decline.
  • In June 2004, results from the Sustainable Arable Farming For an Improved Environment (SAFFIE) project revealed that 4m by 4m undrilled plots in cereal fields improved skylark breeding success by 49%. If undrilled plots were created on only 20% of arable farmland and stubbles left over winter, the decline in skylarks could be reversed.
  • Managing set-aside in a way that benefits ground nesting birds is happening but on an unknown scale.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • Maintain the BBS population index for skylarks at or above the 1995 level.
  • Maintain the number of wintering skylarks at or above 1997/98 level as determined by the JNCC/BTO survey.
  • Maintain the range of skylarks as measured by the frequency of occupation in BBS squares at or above the 1995 level.
  • Reverse the population decline on lowland farmland and other habitats, where found to be declining, as measured by BBS indices


  • Maintain current distribution in Norfolk.
  • By 2010, restore to any parts of the county that have lost breeding skylarks since 1986.

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