Results of the 2015 Big Farmland Bird Count reveal the blackbird is the most commonly-seen bird in the UK
- Credit: Su Anderson
Farmers across Britain were out for the count in February - recording bird numbers on their land. - and Suffolk farmers were among those most likely to have responded.
John Grant reports on the findings of the project, which had been launched in December in Suffolk.
The crisis in farmland bird populations in the UK runs deep and is well documented - but a project launched in Suffolk last year and which came to fruition recently showed that many farmers are taking steps to arrest the declines.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) launched its 2015 Big Farmland Bird Count at the Barker family’s award-winning and wildlife-friendly Lodge Farm at Westhorpe, near Bury St Edmunds, in December. Counting took place between February 7 and 15, and the results have just been published.
A total of more than 950 land managers took part across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, covering areas totalling almost one million acres of farmland. They each completed one half-hour count within the survey dates.
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The top counties for land managers’ responses to the count were Norfolk, Suffolk, Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Devon, Hampshire, Dorset, Lincolnshire, Herefordshire, Wiltshire, North and East Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire.
The five most common birds seen on farms taking part were blackbird, seen by nearly 90% of people, followed by robin (80%), blue tit (79%), chaffinch (75%) and carrion crow (70%).
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A total of 19 red-list species of conservation concern were also recorded with six appearing in the list of 25 most commonly seen species list. Starlings were seen on more than 40% of the farms taking part and were the most abundant red-listed species recorded, followed by linnet, yellowhammer, house sparrow and lapwing.
Compared with last year, 11 additional species of birds were added to the list of birds recorded, including cirl bunting and Cetti’s warbler. In addition, 13 species of raptor were counted with goshawk included in the results for the first time.
Jim Egan, of the GWCT’s Allerton Project in Loddington, Leicester, which researches the effects of farming methods on wildlife and the environment, said: “Even though this is only its second year, we are seeing an increase in the number of birds and the range of species seen - especially red-listed species.
“Double the number of people turned out this winter and between them they recorded more than 127 different species on their farms and estates.”
The type of farm enterprise that took part reflected the full range of farm businesses that had been hoped for.
“Sixty-four per cent of farms grew arable crops, 52% had beef or sheep and more than 12% grew field vegetables,” said Mr Egan.
“There were also a number of dairy farms, horticulture units, poultry producers and pig producers submitting counts.
“Over 69% of participants are in some form of agri-environment scheme,” said Mr Egan.
The count highlighted the range of steps that farmers and gamekeepers were taking to support birds, such as over-winter feeding through hoppers, and many were growing important crops such as wild bird seed mixes.
Mr Egan added: “Over-winter supplementary feeding, a game-management technique which has proved hugely beneficial for wild grey partridges and pheasants, was carried out by more than 50% of those taking part.
“The survey also revealed that 70% of participants said that they were growing wild bird seed mixes, as well as pollen and nectar crops, which when sited near good nesting sites provides a vital food source for birds during the breeding season.
“Over 170 people attended the 10 farmland bird identification days we ran during January to help people prepare of the count. These days gave people insight and the confidence to recognise individual birds on their farm with expert help provided by GWCT Advisory staff, The FWAG Association, the RSPB and Natural England.”
Mr Egan added: “We also produced a great identification guide which was done in partnership with the RSPB and can be found on our website, www.gwct.org.uk/bfbc”
The third GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count will take place during the week of February 6 to 14, 2016.
To register an interest in taking part, visit www.gwct.org.uk/bfbcregister