In the next fortnight, thousands of farmers and land managers across the UK will be taking half an hour out to observe and record the wild birds that share their land, as the tenth GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count gets under way.
Joe Stanley, farming columnist, author, NFU county chair and Head of Training & Partnerships at the GWCT’s Allerton Project demonstration farm, launched the annual nationwide bird survey this morning, Friday 3 February.
The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count is, said Joe, “a fantastic initiative, which gives farmers and land managers a simple way of recording the effect of any conservation work they may have undertaken on their land.”
Emma Jackson of the North Essex Farm Cluster, explained: “As farmers and landowners, participating in the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count is a really accessible way of tracking the natural capital we have on farms. It’s so important for us to know what wildlife our farms support, and to see the impact of conservation and stewardship schemes we engage in.”
Emma, who represents the cluster of more than 40 farmers and land managers who work together on landscape-scale conservation projects, organised a farmland bird event ahead of this year’s count. The event brought farmers and landowners together with local group the Essex Birdwatching Society and RSPB conservation advisor Mark Nowers. The aim, said Emma, was to “share ideas about supporting our farmland bird populations and to get support to identify the birds we have on our farms.”
The RSPB’s Mark Nowers said: “The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count is a great opportunity to take stock of the birds on your farm. I was fortunate enough to spend time with the farmers of the North Essex Farm Cluster where we were treated to the incredible sight of over 700 linnets bursting out of some wild bird cover.
“Species like yellowhammer, corn bunting and linnet are heavily reliant on the stewardship of farmers for their populations to thrive,” commented Mark. “I hope that whatever you see, it acts as a trigger for you to think, How can I get more of these on my farm?.”
What is the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count?
The annual citizen science project, organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) since 2014, asks land managers to spend 30 minutes checking in on their feathered friends, recording their numbers and submitting the results to the Trust. The aim is to encourage farmers and gamekeepers to support farmland birds and to highlight the hard work already done by many of them to help reverse species’ declines. The count gives a vital national snapshot of the health of the UK’s farmland birdlife.
Land managers look after 72% of the UK’s land area – the largest songbird habitat in the country – so they can make a real and immediate difference by adopting effective conservation measures. From today, farmers and gamekeepers up and down the land, from Aberdeenshire to Cornwall, West Wales to Suffolk, will get involved in this huge countryside conservation effort.
The bird count is also, according to Joe Stanley, a great way of “getting the message out to the Great British public that farmers are proud to act as stewards of our land.”
The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count is sponsored by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and has the support of farming unions and organisations across the UK.
“It is not too late to get involved”
“It is not too late to get involved,” said Dr Roger Draycott, who organises the event. “Counting takes just 30 minutes and can be done anytime between now and 19 February.”
Bird identification guides and videos are available on the website, along with guidance on how to support birds on farmland.