‘Red List’ species spotted as bird counters turn out in force across UK farms

Large numbers of farmers took part as GWCT held a Great Farmland Bird Count in February

A song thrush was among the species spotted by farmers during the Great Farmland Bird Count - Credit: Andy Morffew

Organisers of an annual farmland bird count have expressed delight as participation in the event more than doubled this year.

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) Big Farmland Bird Count recorded sightings of a total of 25 species on the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern — with eight appearing in the 25 most frequently seen species list. 

Farmers, gamekeepers and land managers spent 30 minutes recording the bird species they saw on their land to provide a snapshot of sightings over a period from February 5 to February 21.

“We could not be more delighted with the response to this year’s GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count,” said organiser Dr Roger Draycott.

“Despite much of the country being blanketed in snow during the count, participation has shot up, with 2,500 counts returned, representing a 65% increase in the number of counts submitted compared to 2020, which was also a record year. 

“The land area covered by the count has more than doubled to over a million hectares and 81% more birds have been counted this year by more than 700 additional volunteers.

“All of this helps us to build a detailed national picture of the state of Britain’s farmland birds, allowing us to better understand what is really going on in our countryside. It clearly shows that farmers, land managers and gamekeepers care for the land they work and, given that they look after 71% of all the land in the UK, that is extremely good news for the future of our treasured bird species.

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“We would like to thank everyone who took part for demonstrating that land managers can lead the way in protecting our countryside alongside effective food production.”

Of the Red List species recorded, starlings, fieldfare, lapwing and linnet were the four most abundant with more than 112,000 spotted in total — which equates to 22% of all the birds counted. 

The five most abundant birds counted were woodpigeons, starling, rooks, fieldfare and chaffinch. A total of 190,000 were seen, making up over 37% of the total number of birds recorded.

The aim of the annual nationwide survey — launched in 2014 — is to identify any species which are struggling and highlight positive work done by farmers and gamekeepers in helping reverse the decline in farmland birds.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has sponsored the count for the last three years. NFU president Minette Batters described the results as “tremendous”.

“I would like to thank all those farmers who responded to this year’s count in record numbers despite the wintry weather back in February. It’s great too that so many different threatened species were spotted such as lapwing and linnet. British farmers are proud to produce your food and it is often unappreciated that they also provide habitats for wildlife and additional feeding for farmland birds during the winter months.”

Norfolk topped the leader board with 189 submissions. Suffolk was fifth with 116 counts returned and Essex was 15th with 57.