13 November 2013

UK Farmers urged to get ready for the ‘Biggest’ Farmland Bird Count

The Yellowhammer is one of the many farmland bird species that the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is urging farmers to count during its ‘Big Farmland Bird Count’ taking place in FebruaryThe Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (1) is launching a Big Farmland Bird Count in February 2014 and all farmers and gamekeepers are being urged to take part to help determine how farmland bird species are faring on UK farmland.

Jim Egan, from GWCT’s Allerton Project (2) explains, “Farmers and gamekeepers are vital in helping to ensure the future survival of many of our most cherished farmland bird species such as skylark, yellowhammer, corn buntings and wild grey partridges. They are responsible for managing the largest songbird habitat in this country on their land but frequently their efforts to reverse bird declines are largely unrecorded. We believe our Big Farmland Bird Count will help remedy this, particularly as our earlier pilot count showed such encouraging results. ”

The GWCT’s annual Big Farmland Bird Count, will take place between the 1st and 7th February and the Trust is inviting people to spend about half an hour recording the species and number of birds seen on one area of the farm. Ideally, counting should take place at first light as this is when the birds are most active. However, it is more important that people take part, so timings should suit the individual involved.

This important initiative offers a simple means of recording the effect of any conservation schemes currently being initiated on their land such as supplementary feeding or growing wild bird seed crops and game cover crops. It is also a useful way of gaining personal insight on how well their birds are faring.

In the pilot scheme carried out earlier this year, farmers demonstrated their enthusiasm to take part in a Big Farmland Bird Count. Jim Egan explains, “We asked 60 farmers to take part in a trial and 50 per cent of them rose to the challenge. Managing more than 10,000ha of land between them, the participating farmers recorded 69 different species ranging from tree sparrows, yellow hammer and linnet through to barn owls, kestrels and buzzards.”

Jim Egan explains why the GWCT is ideally placed to run this important new initiative.

“Over the last 21 years researchers at our Allerton Project farm in Leicestershire have gained a great understanding of the needs of farmland game and wildlife. Their work has demonstrated the combined benefits of habitat management, winter feeding for birds and targeted legal predator control in the breeding season. We have also come to understand the benefits that can be gained from long term monitoring of bird numbers in order to identify trends in wildlife populations.”

For those keen to join this national Big Farmland Bird Count, the GWCT will provide a simple tick sheet that can be downloaded and taken into the field to record sightings. Participants will then be able to send the results via a dedicated web page on the Trust’s website.

Jim Egan concludes, “We understand the crucial role that farmers and gamekeepers play in the survival of farmland birds and we want to give them an opportunity of showing what their conservation efforts deliver on the ground. It is also a satisfying way for people to discover the different range of birds that are on the farm and the results can be surprising. We hope it will spur people on to do even more work for their farmland birds in the future and will act as a catalyst for them to start building their own long standing wildlife records. ”

The GWCT’s Big Farmland Bird Count is being generously sponsored by BASF. Graham Hartwell, UK and Ire Environmental Stewardship Manager from BASF explains why they are supporting this important initiative. He said, “Our partnerships with progressive family-run commercial farms at Rawcliffe Bridge and The Grange show us what can be achieved with simple measures to improve biodiversity. We now have a very strong database to show significant progress in increasing breeding bird territories through better management of field margins. Many farmers have an innate knowledge of the wildlife on their farms and are supportive of initiatives that encourage best practice management of habitats to improve biodiversity. The national Big Farmland Bird Count is a great opportunity for many farmers who have adopted management changes to show how their conservation efforts have delivered improved habitats and consequently farmland bird numbers to improve sustainability of their farms.”

For more information on the Big Farmland Bird Count, please visit the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s website: www.gwct.org.uk/bfbc to register interest or alternatively email Jim Egan on jegan@gwct.org.uk for more information.

Bird Facts:

These are some of the important farmland birds that might be seen when participating in the GWCT’s Big Farmland Bird Count during the week of the 1 – 7th February

Grey partridge

Often considered an icon of Christmas, the ground-nesting wild grey partridge has suffered a huge decline over the past 40 years. Once a familiar species across the country it is now largely limited to the eastern half of the country. It particularly favours more open countryside with few trees and is most often found out on stubbles. In late winter it benefits greatly from supplementary feeding through either hoppers or by spreading grain along tracks.

Corn bunting

As the name implies this bird is very much associated with farmland and has a large beak specifically designed to eat cereals. Like the grey partridge and skylark it is very much a bird of more open rolling landscapes where it will be found in the winter in small flocks feeding on weedy stubbles and over-wintering game cover crops or wild bird seed mixes. In late winter it is often found feeding under hoppers put out for partridges.

Tree sparrow

Tree sparrows like tall hedges with trees and often rely on farmland areas to find grain and weed seeds to feed on over winter. Tree sparrows will readily accept supplementary feeding and will sometimes appear in gardens to feed on bird tables and hoppers. The main populations of tree sparrows are found across the Midlands, southern and eastern England. The key threats facing the species is a lack of good nesting sites on farmland and good insect rich areas to forage for insect food. Putting up nest boxes close to good foraging areas will be of enormous value.


Skylarks are birds that frequent open farmland and prefer to feed on stubble fields away from woods and trees. They are still relatively common in farmland areas and can sometimes be found in reasonably large flocks on particularly favoured fields.


The yellowhammer is a sparrow-sized, bright-yellow bird of woodland edges, hedgerows, heath and farmland that feeds on seeds and invertebrates. In the winter, they join mixed-species flocks of buntings, finches and sparrows to feed on seed in farmland. Yellowhammers are often seen perched on top of bushes singing their 'a little bit of bread and no cheese' song.


Picture Credit: Peter Thompson, GWCT. Photocaption: The Yellowhammer is one of the many farmland bird species that the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is urging farmers to count during its ‘Big Farmland Bird Count’ taking place in February.


Notes for editors:

  1. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife since the 1930s. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats and we lobby for agricultural and conservation policies based on science. We employ 14 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse. For Information, contact: Morag Walker – Head of Media, Telephone – 01425-652381 (direct 01425-651000) Mobile – 07736-124097 www.gwct.org.uk
  2. The GWCT’s Allerton Project: The GWCT’s Allerton Project is an 800 acre commercial farm business attached to a Research and Educational charitable trust. The Project was established in 1992 with the objective of demonstrating how modern efficient farming and environmental conservation can co-exist. The development of the education objectives of the Trust have expanded substantially to several thousand visitors a year including school groups, politicians, policy makers, farmers and conservationists.