Monday, 22 December 2014

Guest Blog: If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well

Image by Peter Thompson
by Chris Baylis, LEAF Farmer from Sutton Estates

Our awareness of the importance of conservation has increased dramatically over the last decade and there is little negativity from stakeholders in the agricultural industry and general public towards our efforts to safeguard the surrounding biodiversity - we know it’s a job worth doing! The Big Farmland Bird Count is a fantastic initiative that helps recognise and celebrate the work that the farming community do to help farmland bird numbers.

As a LEAF Demonstration Farm we are no stranger to taking part in valuable initiatives and we join in not only because it’s a great way to show how the birds are faring on the farm but also as a way for us to contribute to the bigger picture: It helps to demonstrate the considerable conservation measures being implemented by UK farmers, which is important for us to promote. Joining in the count and having access to the valuable statistics it collates also helps us to communicate the key Integrated Farm Management (IFM) messages to the visitors we welcome on to the Estate.

On this Estate 10% of our total area is devoted to conservation including; 25 acres of wild bird mix, 37 acres of pollen and nectar strips and 28 owl boxes in name but a few. We took part in the 2014 count and recorded 40 species in out half hour look which included Tree sparrow and Lapwing to name just two. We would encourage farmers to join in the BFBC and start celebrating their conservation achievements as we know through our own conservation efforts that it is ‘worth doing’ and we feel taking part in the Big Farmland Bird Count ensures we are ‘doing it well’.

Farmland Bird ID Days

Ahead of the 2015 Big Farmland Bird Count we're running 10 farmland bird identification days around the country in January. Places are strictly limited to 20 per day and you can book your place here.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Guest Blog: RSPB delighted to support Big Farmland Bird Count

by Richard Winspear, Head of Technical Advice, RSPB

The RSPB is delighted to support the Big Farmland Bird Count, running from 7th to 15th February, which is a fantastic initiative to get farmers looking out for and enjoying the birdlife on their farm. If you struggle to tell your house sparrow from your tree sparrow, GWCT and RSPB have jointly produced an identification guide to help you put a name to the ‘little brown jobs’, which you can download here.

For those of you who are more accomplished birdwatchers, it is an opportunity to take stock of what is using your farm and think about what measures you might use to support them through the winter, and the summer too, if they stay to breed.

It is fascinating to see with your own eyes what GWCT and RSPB researchers have proven over the years. For example, you are more likely to turn up a flock of finches or buntings, or a covey of grey partridges, if you walk around a wild bird seed mixture or overwintered stubble field, especially if this field did not receive a pre-harvest glyphosate application. If you come across a large flock of birds at this time of year, it proves you are doing something right. Can you work out what they are feeding on? Exploring how farmland birds are using your farm through the winter is useful to understand how you might help them, and is also quite fun.

You might find a true wildlife spectacle, as birds flock together in hundreds at this time of year wherever there is an abundant source of seed food. The sight of several thousand birds, including 700 corn buntings (3% of the British population) taking off from a 10ha stubble field in Bedfordshire will live with me forever. Hope you have a great day!

Download your FREE Farmland Bird ID Guide

Our FREE colour ID guide contains images and descriptions of the following birds:
  • Grey partridge
  • Red-legged partridge
  • Starling
  • Yellowhammer
  • Skylark
  • Meadow pipit
  • House sparrow
  • Tree sparrow
  • Linnet
  • Reed bunting

Monday, 1 December 2014

Guest blog: If you can't measure it - you can't manage it

by Guy Smith, Vice President, NFU

Measuring and recording things is very much part of modern farming. Rain in the gauge, min and max temperature, kilos used, hectares covered, dates, rates and time - they all go into our record books, spreadsheets and smartphones. It's all information that helps us better understand the complex working environments of our farms. We record things such as milk and grain yields so we can better understand our performance as farmers. It's data like this that enables us to improve our management as we go forward. 'If you can't measure it - you can't manage it' is an old adage that still rings true.

But curiously we seldom think to apply this discipline as farmers to the biodiversity on our farms even if we are tasked to try to improve our conservation work. Our knowledge of what species we have on our farms tends to be a bit random. We might make a mental note when we are out and about in the tractor, especially when something unusual flaps across the eye-line but we don't often treat it as data we ought to log. Consequently while many of us have a good knowledge of the wildlife on our farms, we lack the stats to back that knowledge up.

And that's why I'm a big fan of the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count. It encourages us to get in the habit of applying a bit of science to the challenge of farmland conservation just as we apply science to the challenge of improving milk or wheat yields. It also encourages us to look harder at the biodiversity of our farms so we understand it better.

The other great thing about the Big Farmland Bird Count is that, through the good auspices of the GWCT, all the information can be pulled together so we can piece together a vital national snapshot of the state of the nation when it comes to farmland birds.

I often hear farmers grumble that while they are quietly proud of how much wildlife they have on their farms they get fed up with reports in the media that modern farming is bad for birds. I can understand the frustration but to my mind the answer is, don't just be proud - be loud. So, come next February get the binoculars out, dust off the note pad, sharpen the pencil and get recording as you go out and about on the farm. Then post your results to GWCT. We're always interested in how many tonnes of wheat we can get to the hectare, now let's systematically record how many bird species we can achieve per farm.

Take part in the 2015 Big Farmland Bird Count

Simply click here to register your interest in taking part. Everything you need is free to download from our website.