“One of the most enjoyable and beneficial half hours of the year” – the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count

GWCT students Rosa Hicks and Piera Coleman explain why you should do the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count in February

For the 10th year, the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count is back, with farmers, land managers and gamekeepers taking to their fields to count some of the iconic British birds that share their land.

Why you should get involved

Farmland birds have declined by 63% since 1970 and desperately need our help. To know how we can best reverse this decline, it is important to have information from long term initiatives like the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count. 

Previous participants in the scheme have said: 

“I find the count to be most rewarding as, for the sake of half an hour, you get a real feeling of the good you’re doing for birdlife on your patch.”
– Paul Clayworth, Berwickshire

“The count gives me an idea of the health of the farm and potential for improvement such as coppicing or placing of feeders to support populations.”
– Ross Cherrington, Devon

“Taking part in the GWCT Big Farmland Bird count is an easy way to provide the GWCT with information relating to the benefits of shooting estate management, it also provides a great excuse to stop and really look at what you have on your patch, record it, and then make plans to improve. Probably one of the most enjoyable and beneficial half hours of the year.”
– Chris Broughton, Somerset

Additionally, at the end of the count, everyone who participates will receive a report on the national count results, with insightful comparisons to previous years’ bird populations.

What birds might you see?

The guide below shows a few of the farmland bird species you might see during your count. Click here for more bird ID guides.


This songbird is unmistakable in the field, with a bright yellow head and belly. Yellowhammers are often seen perched on top of a hedge or bush singing – listen out for their “a little bit of bread and no cheese” song!

  • Yellowhammer numbers have declined by 42% since 1995

Corn Bunting

This bunting has a nondescript, brown body, with a wide, finch-like bill for cracking open seeds. Corn buntings tend to perch on wires or posts and will fly between perches with a fluttering style flight and a distinct leg dangle. 

  • Corn bunting numbers have declined by 46% since 1995

Grey partridge

The grey partridge, also known as the English partridge, is a medium sized grey bird, with an identifiable orange face. It is found on the ground in small groups called coveys, which, when startled, will fly low in a whirring style. 

  • Grey partridge numbers have declined by 64% since 1995

Red-legged partridge

This partridge is much more distinctive than the grey partridge, with a bright white chin and a speckled black throat. Red-legged partridges can be found feeding in groups on the ground and, unlike grey partridges, tend to run when startled.


The lapwing is a medium-sized glossy black and white bird with a splendid head crest. They can be easily identified in flight from their round wing shape and unique “peewit” calls.  

  • Lapwing numbers have declined by 30% since 1995


The skylark is a small, streaky, brown bird, that is often seen perched on posts or fences. They have a notable head crest, which they raise in alarm. Listen out for their long, melodic song, which they can sing from over 50m in the air!

  • Skylark numbers have declined by 25% since 1995

How to get involved

  1. Download your count sheet. Start thinking about where you want to survey from (it could be from within a vehicle), aiming for a spot where you can see around 2 ha of land. Take a look at the weather and set a date between 3-19 February.
  2. Count your birds! Record the species you see, and the maximum number of each species seen at one time.
  3. Submit your results quickly and easily online from 3 February.

In February we will be joining some local landowners for their GWCT Big Farmland Bird Counts. We are all looking forward to seeing what species are sharing their land. It will be especially exciting to see the successes of their environmental efforts, hopefully leading to higher bird numbers than in previous years.

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