Despite it being the wettest winter since records began in 1910 more than 500 farmers, managing nearly half-million acres of UK farmland, rose to the challenge of counting their farmland birds during the second week in February in the first Big Farmland Bird Count.
We led the initiative with sponsorship from BASF and support from LEAF and the FWAG Association. Farmers participating in the count represented every county in England, with counts also being returned in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In total, 116 different species were recorded. There were 11 red list species recorded – corn bunting, fieldfare, grey partridge, house sparrow, lapwing, linnet, skylark, song thrush, tree sparrow and yellow hammer. In addition to these, we also had sightings of twite, lesser spotted woodpecker, bittern, wax wing and great grey shrike and encouragingly, six of those red-listed species, linnet, yellowhammer, hedge sparrow, tree sparrow, starling and lapwing appeared in the top 25 of birds counted.
Woodpigeon, blackbird, carrion crows, chaffinch and pheasants emerged as the birds seen on most farms. It was fantastic that farmers reported seeing 12 different species of raptor.
A wide range of farming enterprises took part with the average farm size 924 acres, giving a total area farmed of nearly 500,000 acres.
Nearly 80% of those taking part were in Environmental Stewardship. Over-winter feeding, either by providing supplementary food in feeders or through planting wild bird seed mixes proved to be fruitful counting sites for many farmers and enabled them to record impressive numbers of yellowhammer and corn bunting as well as many other seed eating birds.
Within the survey 60% of farmers were providing food specifically for their birds and this is one of the conservation measures which is helping the birds thrive and stay alive on these farms over winter.
The second Big Farmland Bird Count will take place during the week of 7th – 15th February 2015 and it is hoped that even more farmers will get involved in counting their birds.