© Markus Jenny
Project IP-SUISSE - Integrated farming
In their cereal fields, many IP-SUISSE farmers (label for integrated farming) improve breeding conditions for the threatened skylark and thereby enhance biodiversity in general.
On many farms, the biological potential is by far not exploited. The Swiss Ornithological Institute Sempach therefore demands that agricultural production be better adapted to the habitat requirements of farmland species, especially of the typical farmland bird species. The organisation IP-SUISSE, founded by producers applying integrated farming, aims to develop and implement measures that are easy to see and to experience for consumers.
The organisation IP-SUISSE is a union of Swiss farmers who ensure good standards for the protection of environmental resources and animal welfare. About 20´000 of the totally 60´000 Swiss farms follow the IP-SUISSE guidelines in some or all of their production sectors and are certified with the quality label, the "ladybug label".
Until the 1970s, the skylark was a very common bird of open arable and grassland. The skylark is a ground-nesting species and relies on low and sparse vegetation for foraging and breeding. Nowadays, crop varieties are very densely sown and grow fast, so that it is difficult for skylarks to find suitable breeding and foraging habitat already in the middle of May when the breeding activities peak.
In the 1990s, studies in Denmark and Germany showed that skylarks occasionally use unsown plots within fields. Shortly after, `unsown patches´ were left on purpose within intensively managed winter wheat. Since 2005, approx. 20% of IP-SUISSE farmers implement this type of in-field measure on a voluntary basis for skylarks and for an overall wildlife-friendly cereal management.
In 2006, a Master thesis showed that such unsown in-field patches are suitable for skylarks.
IP-SUISSE is convinced that Swiss agricultural products can be marketed best when they are linked to efficient biodiversity enhancement. IP-SUISSE partners have recognised that wildlife-friendly products are very well received by some consumers.
The skylark project has been the cornerstone for the two larger projects "Scoring with biodiversity - farmers enrich nature" and "TerraSuisse" (Migros). Measures for skylarks and various other species are part of the credit point system for enhancing biodiversity on IP-SUISSE farms.
In a Master thesis (by Judith Fischer), it was shown that skylark males defended unsown patches and that winter wheat fields containing such patches were part of the territories until July. Winter wheat fields without any unsown patches, however, were avoided after May. When a nest was built in a winter wheat field it was more often in or near an unsown plot than expected by chance. Unsown patches were the preferred foraging locations, together with field borders and spring-sown crops. Because the vegetation in unsown patches is usually considerably scarser than outside such patches, skylarks have easier access to insect prey.
We conclude that skylarks benefit from unsown patches. Aside from skylarks, brown hares and quails could be observed in the unsown patches as well, showing that this measure may also be beneficial to other wildlife species.
To increase the positive effects on skylarks, it is vital that the unsown patches be implemented as far away from field borders and tramlines as possible to minimise the risk of nest predation.