Conservationist bodies have been accused of failing wildlife and contributing to the decline in upland birds today by the Farmers' Union of Wales.
The accusation came in response to claims by Ecology Matters, a Wales-based surveying and research consultancy, that intensive land use and overgrazing by sheep on Pumlumon have resulted in a significant loss of biodiversity including declines since 1984 in golden plover and red grouse numbers of 92 per cent and 48 per cent respectively.
But FUW Ceredigion county chairman Fred Williams said farmers were being used as scapegoats and that conservationists were ignoring the “elephant in the room” - namely increases in predator numbers.
“Welsh ewe numbers have fallen to the same level they were at in 1982, and the numbers in the Pumlumon area have fallen by far more, with vast expanses of land now hardly grazed at all due to agri-environment rules. The area is being farmed far less intensively than it was decades ago.
“These claims are just hollow and conservationists are ignoring one of the major causes of declines in bird numbers which is increases in predator numbers.”
Mr Williams said many conservationists took a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach, when it came to damage inflicted on bird populations by predators, and resorted to blaming farming practices as a default position in order to avoid uncomfortable truths.
“People have been farming livestock on Pumlumon since the Iron Age and agriculture has been an important part of the ecosystem for thousands of years.”
Mr Williams cited major increases in the number of wild animals known to target ground-nesting birds, including foxes, badgers and crows, as a major problem for many endangered species.
“Badger setts are now found in areas where they never previously existed, including at levels over 1,000 feet, and analyses of badger and fox diets shows that they regularly target ground-nesting birds and their eggs.
“These animals don’t exist on fresh air and water
and it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to work out that doubling badger and fox numbers means doubling the amount of food they need. Unfortunately, ground nesting birds are at the top of the menu.”
Mr Williams added that undergrazing was also a problem in many areas, leading to overgrowth which was unsuitable for many species, and made it easier for predators to sneak up on their prey and find nesting sites. He said that vast forestry plantations also played a role in providing shelter for predators.
Mr Williams said he also had concerns that the proliferation of red kite numbers could also represent a major problem for ground-nesting birds.
“Its great to see a species like the red kite thriving after having been brought back from the verge of extinction but we also have to take care that we don’t create a massive problem for the species which red kites prey on.
“Conservationists who bury their heads in the sand and blame farming for all the ills of the world are causing immense harm to our wildlife and must wake up to the damage that allowing predator numbers to rise without check can cause.”