371 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations, b/w maps, tables
First published in 2003, Birds, Scythes and Combines provides an historical perspective to changes in farmland bird populations in Britain over the past 250 years. Despite the scale of change in habitats and agricultural methods in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, early avifaunas show that farmland birds were little affected. Specialised species of fen and marsh were lost, often as much to persecution as habitat destruction, but farmland birds benefited from the appearance of extensive new resources which aided their adaptation to the altered habitats created by the new farming methods. In addition, many old permanent grass habitats were little altered, leaving a major reservoir of important habitats unchanged. By contrast, more modern farming methods, with changes in grassland management, in herbicide use and in harvesting methods particularly, have led to a collapse in the diversity of farmland and a consequent steep decline in the population size of a high proportion of farmland birds.
[...] a fascinating and timely book [...] Michael Shrubb [...] has a virtually unrivalled knowledge of his subject [...]
- British Trust for Ornithology
"[...] both a pleasure and a sorrow to read [...] the author is to be congratulated on putting forward some interesting ideas [...] Where this book really wins is that it is written by an 'ornithological farmer' who has seen at first hand the effects that the dramatic changes in agricultural practices have had on wildlife in the second half of the last century"
"Michael Shrubb has done all the hard work of trawling through the literature and has produced a book that is comprehensive and highly readable [...] Birds, Scythes and Combines will provide a valuable reference."
- British Wildlife
"A fascinating study."
- Scientific and Medical Network Review
"The author is a farmer with an extensive knowledge of birds and conservation. He not only provides an excellent account of the past and present status of our farmland birds, but describes the history of farming and rural land use in Britain. Birds, Scythes and Combines is thus an important social as well as ecological document."
"[...] we should all read this book and take stock of what is happening in the fields around us."
- Sherkin Comment
"[...] provides the most comprehensive review of the relationship between British farming and birds yet written [...] mass of interesting historical and contemporary detail [...] eminently readable."
- The Agricultural History Review
1. The agricultural background
2. The farmland birds
3. Arable farming systems: high farming and before
5. Some thoughts on hedges
7. Weeds, weeding and pesticides
8. Arable farming systems: after 1945
9. Grassland and stock
10. Winter food resources
11. Labour, machines and buildings
Bibliography and references
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Michael Shrubb is a retired farmer with a lifelong interest in birds which he has been studying since the late 1950s.