Intensive farming could harm EU's eastern birds

CAMBRIDGE, UK, May 11, 2004 (ENS): Birds in the expanded European Union of 25 countries may experience serious problems in the new member states that joined the bloc on May 1. The danger to wildlife and rural landscapes is EU agricultural policy, the bird conservation group BirdLife International warns.

The new member states - Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia - will bring to the EU flowery meadows, diverse farmland habitats and a wealth of plants and animals.

Many farmland bird species that are now uncommon in much of western Europe are still widespread in most of the new Eastern European member states. The eight mainland accession countries will bring more than 76,000 pairs of white storks Ciconia ciconia to the EU. Currently, there are just 5,700 pairs in northwest Europe.

But intensive agriculture has already decimated farmland birds in the first 15 EU countries, and no real strategy is in place in the new member states to prevent wildlife from being swept away by the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) says.

"We urgently need to avoid the same mistakes in the new member states," said Giovanna Pisano, Agriculture Task Force coordinator with BirdLife.

Hungary and Poland are home to several birds threatened with global extinction, including the great bustard Otis tarda, the Corncrake Crex crex; and the Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola.

"Supporting and training farmers to understand wildlife needs will be a crucial step," said Clairie Papazoglou, who heads BirdLife's European Community Office.

BirdLife is now lobbying for more Common Agricultural Policy funds to be allocated to protecting and creating wildlife rich areas in the new member states.

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