By Merlin Becker, Policy & Advisory Officer Scotland
Today marks the start of our Big Farmland Bird Count and what a build-up we have had this year for this very special event. GWCT Scotland ran three very successful Big Farmland Bird ID Days across the country and even across the water in Northern Ireland. Through these events we got a great sweep of people, from farmers to birders to land managers, all together to spend a few hours in the countryside learning more about our cherished farmland birds.
Our first event was at Culfargie, Perthshire, where we had a beautifully cold and sunny winter’s day and fantastic facilities kindly provided by Bandirran Estate. Here we saw a nice display of several bird species, notably numerus yellowhammers taking advantage of the first class game cover strips the estate has established for the shoot; the secretive, promiscuous dunnock keeping tucked into the warm hedgerows; and song thrush probing for invertebrates out in the arable fields.
County Down, Northern Ireland
The second day (and the obvious favourite of the three due to my Irish roots) was across the water in Northern Ireland at Mr David Sandford’s Portloughan Farm in County Down. Run in conjunction with RSPB Northern Ireland, it was a packed event with approximately 30 people attending. We had a varied mix of farmers, field sports enthusiasts, birders and conservationists, which all added into a fantastic day with great discussions on present and future policy for managing our countryside safely, responsibly and sustainably.
The farm, which is also run as a small shoot, is nestled along the coast of Strangford Lough and the wild scenery all added in to a magical day. Mr Sandford is the first man in Northern Ireland to re-introduce wild grey partridge to the country since the species went extinct in the 1980s, so his targeted management options for these red-listed gamebirds has had tremendous knock-on effects for all the other fauna on the farm.
On the day we saw several big flocks of bumbling linnets feeding in the second-year kale crops sown for the shoot; skylark and meadow pipit aplenty in the winter stubble fields; and we were even blessed to see and hear the unmistakable call of the lapwing gliding over the sea near the foreshore. This small farm is testament to what one can achieve for game and wildlife conservation through working in partnership with others alongside having the drive and passion to help protect our natural cultural heritage.
The final ID Day was up on our Game & Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm at Auchnerran, Aberdeenshire. Similar to the Culfargie day it was a smaller group of attendees but no less interesting and quite special to have more detailed discussions with each person who came along for the day. Again, the weather was bitterly cold and this showed true with the bird life not being as active as we had hoped them to be. We did manage to see a few charms of chaffinches fluffed up and perched on the hazel thickets close to our game crops, the occasional blackbird darting from cover to cover to try to keep warm, and plenty of woodpigeon moving from the many different woodlands on the farm.
So all in all a few fun-filled, very rewarding identification days, which has helped others improve their love and knowledge of our diverse range of bird species. Preparing them for the week ahead to shout loud and proud for all the important work farmers and land managers are doing for farmland biodiversity conservation right across the UK!
2017 Big Farmland Bird Count - starts Friday 3rd February
Find out how to take part >