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.

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