Next Steps in Reversing Biodiversity Decline on Farms in NE Wales

The farmland bird feeding project in North East Wales fed birds from December to May across 25 farms in Denbighshire and Flintshire. The project was designed to introduce supplementary feeding to the farming community in the region, and many of the project farms were unaware of this conservation technique when first approached.

Although ‘bird feed’ was included as a capital works item within Glastir Advanced, many farms in Wales have been completely unaware of the option. Going forward, GWCT Wales are aiming to highlight the need for supplementary feeding to not only be included in the future Welsh Sustainable Farming Scheme but also be better advertised within it, raising the profile of supplementary feeding - because we know it can make such a huge difference, especially on pastoral farms.

What was the objective of the projective and how was it achieved?

The objective was to raise awareness of supplementary feeding as a conservation method in Wales, by providing the farming community in North East Wales with the knowledge and resources required to reduce winter mortality of farmland birds on their farms.

The project was funded by a Shared Outcome Request Grant from Natural Resources Wales, and worked towards addressing a theme of the North East Wales Area Statement – promoting the resilience of ecosystems in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity.

Songbird specific farmland bird feeders from Perdix Wildlife Supplies were given to a group of 25 farms in Denbighshire and Flintshire in North East Wales. The farms were also each given 500kg of supplementary feed mix containing wheat, oil seed rape, canary seed, sunflowers, sunflower hearts, linseed, mustard and buckwheat. Starting in December 2020 and running through to the beginning of May 2021, the farms were asked to provide supplementary food through the ‘hungry gap’ – a time of year when very little food is available in our landscape, especially on pasture farms in Wales. The project also provided trail cameras to the farms for several weeks each during the project to determine which species were present and using the feeders on their farms.

What was unique about the strategy of the project?

The concept is not innovative in the sense that the concept is proven elsewhere in the UK. In Wales, supplementary feeding was included in Glastir Advanced as a Capital Works Item. However, very few people were aware of the option and take-up was incredibly low. The GWCT has proven the importance of over-winter supplementary feeding and advocates it as a simple technique that contributes to enhanced biodiversity and can be used alongside conventional farming practices. In Wales, and on pasture-based farms where seed availability is especially low through the winter, supplementary feeding has the potential to make a huge difference, and this project aims to act as a starting point to raise awareness of the practice in Wales.

Have you any results from this project?

No specific population data is being created by this project, but we have been able to let farms know what species are visiting their feeders. This data is evidence for each farm to demonstrate what species are present and can help inform future conservation on the farms.

As the Basic Payment Scheme is withdrawn in Wales over the coming years, we know that future payments will be driven by the delivery of public goods, which includes delivering biodiversity. Evidencing what species are present, and the conservation measures in place is likely to become increasingly important for Welsh farmers.

A total of 26 different bird species (three Amber listed and three Red listed) were seen visiting or close to the feeders, with the majority being the more common species we would expect to see on farms in Wales such as blue tit, great tit, robin, dunnock and chaffinch. It is important to note that the feeders will only attract birds from habitat adjacent to or within the locality of the feeders, and a feeder alone would not draw birds from wider afield.

To further enhance the value of supplementary feeding, we must combine it with quality habitat provision, and this is most easily done by adding in a wild bird seed mix cover crop into the farming equation. A two-year wild bird seed mix has the potential to not only provide seed and cover through the winter but also provides an insect-rich habitat through late spring and summer to provide chick food too. In the winter, it can help draw in birds from wider afield and, when used in conjunction with supplementary feeding, can make a tremendous difference, especially on pasture-based farms in Wales.

We hope to secure further funding to continue this project with this group, following the supplementary feeding with the establishment of wild bird seed mixes to further demonstrate the difference it can make on Welsh farms.

  • In total 37,937 photographs were taken during the project, which averaged at 1,517 photographs per farm. These photographs were analysed, and a species list created from them for each farm, with the ‘best’ 30 photographs showcasing species diversity being sent to each landowner.
  • In total, 26 avian species were seen although not all of these would have been feeding from the feeders, including three Amber-listed and three Red-listed BoCC species and five Section 7 priority species of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. 
  • A project questionnaire which provided the following results: 
    • 23% of survey respondents were not aware of the reasons behind the decline of farmland birds prior to being part of the project.
    • 77% of survey respondents were unaware of supplementary feeding as a conservation technique prior to being part of the project.
    • 100% of survey respondents stated they had enjoyed feeding birds on their farms through the hungry gap.
    • 92% of survey respondents felt that they were more interested in the birdlife on their farm as a consequence of the project.
    • 92% of survey respondents felt feeding the birds had made a difference to the birds on their farm through the winter.
    • 27% of survey respondents have current Glastir agreements.
    • 100% of survey respondents would choose to continue over-winter supplementary feeding for farmland birds if the option was included in the future Sustainable Farming Scheme.
    • 100% of survey respondents stated they were more likely to consider future payments linked to options such as supplementary feeding and wild bird seed mix cover crops, providing payments realistically covered costs incurred and income forgone.
    • 100% of survey respondents stated they were willing to be part of an additional project demonstrating the benefits of supplementary feeding alongside the provision of wild bird seed mix cover crops, providing costs were covered including income forgone.
  • BBC Radio 4 Farming Today interview with Mariclare Carey-Jones, broadcast to a wider audience (potentially 1 million listeners) aired on 9 July 2021.