Monday, 16 February 2015

2015 Big Farmland Bird Count in pictures

The 2015 Big Farmland Bird Count has been a great success and we'd like to thank all those who took part. To be the first to get the count results please register here.

Monday, 9 February 2015

2015 Big Farmland Bird Count features on Countryfile

Following their visit to our Allerton Project Farm in Leicestershire last month, Countryfile featured our Big Farmland Bird Count in last night's episode. Count organiser Jim Egan and GWCT advisor Peter Thompson were both interviewed and you can watch the piece here.

The item generated quite a response on Twitter and below are a selection of some of the tweets that appeared both during and after the episode was broadcast:

Monday, 2 February 2015

GWCT, RSPB and FWAG team up for Somerset bird ID day

by Kevin Rylands, RSPB

Ahead of next week’s Big Farmland Bird Count, GWCT have been holding a number of farmland bird identification events across the country, supported by the RSPB and other key farming partners.

I found myself at the southwest event kindly hosted by Henry & Richard Lang, enthusiastic advocates of wildlife friendly farming and organised by FWAG South West. The event was sold out with farmers from across the region in attendance, showing there is plenty of interest in both the count and farmland birds, indeed there may be an argument for more such events next year. For me the best thing about these events is meeting a wide range of farmers and having an opportunity to answer questions and engage in interesting and yes, at times, challenging conversations.

In addition to the main business of helping people identify their farmland birds, especially those tricky ‘little brown jobs’, the day looked at the reasons for wildlife loss on farmland and offered practical solutions to help address these declines. One of these solutions is to provide areas of game or wildlife strips, these offer an essential winter food source for farmland birds, and are a great focus point for your own BFBC, but winter food is just one of the three key elements for farmland wildlife. The presence of safe nesting and insect rich habitats are essential for year round survival.

It was pointed out that overwinter many of the birds on the count will be migrants , the Redwing and Fieldfares in orchards or berry laden hedges are well known Scandinavian visitors, but the fact that the Skylark or Linnets in the stubbles may also be migrants was more unexpected. Indeed many of the birds breeding on the farm a few months previously may be wintering  on other farms highlighting the need for habitats to be available across the landscape to support population recovery.

Following a warming bowl of soup and some excellent cake (book early for next year!)  the afternoon walk around some of the cover crops and stubbles on the farm revealed a small flock of Linnet, half a dozen Song Thrush, a lone Snipe and best of all a small covey of Grey Partridge. In all four 4 Red and  3 Amber list bird species were recorded, along with four Roe Deer, a Brown Hare and we were even shown several Brown Hairstreak eggs, this rare butterfly thrives on the carefully managed Blackthorn hedges around Henry’s fields.

Some when between the 7th to 15th February colleagues will be taking part in the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count at our arable farm in Cambridgeshire. Following a good breeding season and the relatively mild winter so far bird numbers are very high this winter. At Grange Farm  the bird covers are still feeding lots of Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings and, for the first winter since we bought the farm, tree sparrows.  I will do my BFBC at Labrador Bay in south Devon, one of over 60 RSPB reserves that are actively farmed covering more than 20,000 hectares, here Cirl buntings have increased by over 400% under the management of our farm tenant so I’m hoping to add this Red list species to the BFBC tally.

If you want to take part in the Big Farmland Bird Count (and why wouldn’t you) then you can find all the details about how to take part and submit your results on the GWCT website. Identification charts can be found here and when you have done your count, you can get advice from the RSPB Farming website on how to maximise the potential of your farm, delivering for birds and other wildlife whilst maintaining food production and a healthy environment.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Grassland farmers get involved in Farmland Bird Count

On Friday 23rd January Ros Turner attended a Bird Identification Day at GWCT’s Allerton Project. Ros farms in Leicestershire and is an eighth generation farmer, running her own grassland farm in Leicestershire. She has a flock of 125 early lambing Suffolk Cross ewes and 250 Mules ewes lambing in March, and also produces hay and haylage for the equine market. She is keen that livestock and grassland aren’t forgotten in the Big Farmland Bird Count; here are her thoughts:

“The Farmland Bird Count is not just to show the great work being done by arable farmers sowing wild bird seed mixes and incorporating margins and buffer strips into their farming systems but to show the work being done by all farmers to reverse the decline in farmland birds.

All grassland farms including dairy and lowland beef and sheep farms are playing their part. Species rich permanent pasture has a wealth of biodiversity supporting both insect and seed eating birds. Equally more intensively managed temporary grassland with its closely grazed and open swards can provide an ideal habitat for many birds eg Lapwings; with a bit of thought the grass can be used by livestock and farmland birds alike.

The environmental value of grassland and the work done by grassland farmers, is often unrecognised and undervalued and with the end of the ELS scheme, soon to be unrewarded!

Hedgerow management around grass fields is an area where many grassland farmers have been working on improving biodiversity and nesting areas on their farms and we need to show what we've been doing. Getting involved in the farmland bird count is one of the ways we can get our message heard , so sign up and spend half an hour between 7th and 15th February counting birds .”

Taking part in the Big Farmland Bird Count

For more information about the Big Farmland Bird Count and for details on how you can take part - please click here.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Norfolk ID day highlights importance of feeding through hungry gap

by Roger Draycott, GWCT Head of Advisory Services

Several of my colleagues have been busy over the past few weeks undertaking training days for farmers ahead of the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count. Yesterday it was my turn to help out. I organised a Farmland Bird ID Day with Andrew Holland, from the RSPB, at Field Farm, in Hockwold, South Norfolk.

I was expecting that we would be able to show lots of different birds for the attendees because the farm has a very enthusiastic farm manager, Steve Harrison. Steve is a keen conservationist; indeed he won the Norfolk Grey Partridge Trophy a couple of years ago. But I was not expecting to see the sheer quantity of birds that were on the farm yesterday.

After we had given a brief on the farmland birds that we hope to see in the Big Farmland Bird Count in February we went out into the fields. Steve had been feeding along a farm track in preparation of our visit and within two minutes of us getting out our binoculars and telescopes we had seen a large flock of Reed Buntings, Corning Buntings and a tree sparrow.

We waited around for a few more minutes admiring these birds and then just before moving off a yellowhammer arrived. It was a cold day and this abundance of birds really highlighted the importance of feeding through the hungry gap.

We then moved off across the farm to look at some wild bird cover; Andrew, Steve and I explained the variety of wild bird cover and mixes that are available and the best ways of establishing and managing them.

We then walked off across a weedy stubble and flushed two pairs of grey partridges and a large flock of skylarks. As we were looking at the skylarks as if on cue a flock of Linnets came into view. Making our way across the stubble we then saw some starlings and several fieldfares.

Over the course of a couple of hours we were very lucky to see a wide selection of the farmland birds we hope many farmers will see when they undertake their farmland bird counts between 7th and 15th February this year.

There are still a few places left on our remaining Farmland Bird ID Days which are coming up over the next week or so – so please book on and brush up on your I.D. skills.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Extra Farmland Bird ID Day Added!

Guest blog by Kit Speakman, Essex Chairman of FWAG East

FWAG is delighted to be supporting the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count and as such we’re offering an extra bird identification training day on my farm here in Essex, for any farmers or gamekeepers in East Anglia who couldn’t make the other events.

We’ve decided to run this event because I think it’s really important as many people as possible get behind the count and brush up on their birding skills. We all spend a lot of time fussing over our margins and manicuring our mixes, and we KNOW they deliver for wild birds, but can we identify them? We all enjoy seeing flocks of small birds feeding on our seed, swooping over our hedgerows and darting for cover, but how can we demonstrate the value of our efforts unless we know exactly what we are attracting onto our farms?

At the event, I’m looking forward to hearing from expert FWAG birder Tim Schofield on identifying the different species and putting this into practice on my farm, so that I can contribute meaningfully to the count between 7th-15th February. It’s time we take our conservation efforts full circle, make them measurable and let the public know how we are supporting farmland birds.

Book your place - only 20 available

Click here to register for this event.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Big Farmland Bird Count Matchmaker

by Rob Beeson

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the misfortune to watch ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’ on ITV2. My wife became addicted to it during maternity leave and is still watching it now. Our daughter’s 3 in March.

For those of you not in the know, the show revolves around shrill American ‘4th generation matchmaker’ Patti Stanger who fixes up rich American people with gold-diggers less rich American people. It’s a bit like Cilla Black’s ‘Blind Date’ but with more bling, stretch limos and whiter teeth.

What’s all this got to do with the Big Farmland Bird Count I hear you ask? Not much really. But we have had several people contact us to say that they would be willing to volunteer their time to count birds on behalf of farmers who, for whatever reason, are unable to take part. We therefore came up with the idea of putting these kind bird lovers in touch with those enthusiastic farmers by offering a kind of 'matchmaking' service.

So, if you fall in to either of these camps please email and we’ll do our best to ‘fix you up’!