GWCT Scotland Big Farmland Bird ID Days 2018

This is the week for our Big Farmland Bird Count across the UK and we have had another good build up to the event. GWCT Scotland ran an informative and fun Big Farmland Bird ID Day at GWSDF Auchnerran and one again in Northern Ireland.

Our first event was at the Trust’s demonstration farm at Logie Coldstone, Aberdeenshire. The day began in the Loch Kinnord Hotel where Marlies Nicolai (GWSDF Research Assistant) and I shared the PowerPoint presentation. This added to the fun dynamic of the day and allowed the attendees to get more engaged with questions and discussions about their own experiences with farmland biodiversity.

We even added a relaxed ‘hands-up’ quiz at the end of the presentation, which went down very well to tests folks’ memory spans and freshly learned bird song identification skills.

Marlies Nicolai leads the Bird ID Day at AuchnerranMarlies Nicolai leads the Bird ID Day at GWSDF Auchnerran.

After a warming bowl of soup and puckle of sandwiches we headed out in convoy to Auchnerran Farm for the practical element to the ID day. We were welcomed at the farm by Euan McIlwraith from BBC Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors programme.

Here Marlies and I talked about what the Big Farmland Bird Count is all about and what we are looking to achieve with our hill edge demo farm. We also heard some nice remarks about the day from two attendees who were also interviewed.

We set off for a walk around a part of the farm that is particularity good for farmland birds, with ideal habitat and a game crop field planted to help bird life through the harsh winter months. But in typical Murphy’s Law fashion we didn’t see as many birds as we had hoped – always the way when you specifically go looking for them!

We did manage, however, to get a few glimpses of chaffinches and goldfinches and some challenging blue and great tit song in the woodland areas we toured around. All in all, it was a fun, informative day, and we thoroughly enjoyed the diverse group of people who participated from near and far.

Merlin Becker describing the benefits of game crops for farmland biodiversity
Merlin Becker describing the benefits of game crops for farmland biodiversity.

The second day was again held in conjunction with RSPB Northern Ireland. This year it was held at the National Trust’s estate at Mount Stewart, Co. Down.  Much to my delight the fellow who was delivering the day over there, Sean Woods, was an old university mate from Harper Adams. As is always the case in Northern Ireland the attendance was great; this is principally down to the RSPB’s key presence with the farming community in that part of the country.

Sean led with the presentation with me chipping in helpful comments alongside him. This set a more relaxed atmosphere so that participants are happier to engage with discussions that we started on a number of occasions, notably comparing what works/doesn’t work for agri-environmental schemes in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

When we got out for a walk around the estate we saw a great range of farmland birds to test the participants’ skills. We managed to identify song thrush, dunnock, jackdaw, linnet, goldfinch and woodpigeon in flight, and managed to get very lucky with the yellow warning for snow that was forecast for the day. The walk around the estate brought us alongside several wild bird cover mixes the farm manager and the ranger team establish every year, and this was a great talking point for what options are there for farmers on their own different types of land.

Northern Ireland BFBC ID Day Group
The Northern Ireland BFBC ID Day Group.

I would like to thank RSPB NI for helping the GWCT deliver another successful event again this year, particularly Sean for setting everything up so well and promoting it, as well as the National Trust team for allowing us to have the event at their beautiful estate. I am really looking forward to visiting the homelands again come January 2019 for the same annual event, which is always inspiring. It is a real joy learning about all the little projects people and other organisations are doing for wildlife conservation, which reinstates your faith in the world.

So all you keen birders, farmers and wildlife enthusiasts get those binos out and get a countin’ this week to make the 2018 Big Farmland Bird Count the biggest and best yet - click here to take part.

Merlin Becker
Trainee Advisor Scotland


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