Can you help count Britain's farmland birds?

Minette Batters, NFU President, and GWCT's Peter Thompson spot birds in the driving rain

Minette Batters, NFU President, and GWCT's Peter Thompson spot birds in the driving rain during 2019's Big Farmland Bird Count.

Organisers of the Big Farmland Bird Count 2021 are asking farmers to spend just 30 minutes recording the farmland birds they see on their land.

The annual count, run by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and sponsored by the NFU, is scheduled for 5 – 14 February 2021.

Earlier this year, more than 1,500 farmers across Britain overcame challenging conditions to make the 2020 Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) the biggest since it launched in 2014 (read more here).

“With 71% of Britain’s countryside looked after by farmers, land managers and gamekeepers, they are crucial to ensuring the survival of cherished bird species like skylarks, yellowhammers, corn buntings and wild grey partridges,” says Dr Roger Draycott, organiser and head of advisory services at the GWCT.

“Many of them are already doing fantastic work to support and conserve our native species, including supplementary feeding through winter or growing crops specifically to provide seed for birds, which often goes unrecognised. The Big Farmland Bird Count gives them a chance to see the results of their efforts and provides a crucial national snapshot of the health of the UK’s farmland birds.”

It will be the third year that the NFU has sponsored the nationwide citizen science project that helps show which farmland birds are benefiting from conservation efforts while identifying the species most in need of help.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “Alongside producing climate-friendly food, farmers are working hard to maintain and improve the iconic British countryside by enhancing habitats, supporting pollinators and soils, and protecting wildlife.

“The Big Farmland Bird Count is always a fantastic way for farmers to record the birdlife found on their farms and last year saw record numbers of farmers braving stormy weather to take part and record many different threatened species of farmland birds.

“I am pleased that the NFU is able to sponsor this event and I would encourage all farmers to take part, so we can again pull together a vital national snapshot of the state of the nation’s farmland birds.”

Tom Martin_56724

NFU member and Cambridgeshire farmer Tom Martin (pictured above) explains why he takes part: “The Big Farmland Bird Count is a fantastic way to check on the status of our farmland birds, giving me a good idea of numbers and how our conservation measures may be impacting populations.

"I really believe that farmers are the answer in supporting our wildlife and stewarding our environment and the BFBC is a great way to demonstrate that. Before I took part, I had no idea how many species of bird called our farm their home, and now I look forward to seeing the results each year to discover how they’re doing.”

A perching yellowhammer

A perching yellowhammer

2020’s Big Farmland Bird Count saw record numbers of farmers taking part: over 1,500 participants recorded more than 120 species across 1.4 million acres. The 2020 event also saw more counts returned by ‘farmer clusters’ or groups of farmers working together on conservation projects, providing species data at a wider landscape level as well as at individual farm level.

Encouragingly, 25 species from the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern were recorded in 2020, with nine of them appearing in the 25 most commonly seen list and nine in the most abundant species list, including fieldfares, starlings, linnets and lapwings. Blackbirds and woodpigeons were the most seen species in 2020, followed by robins, blue tits and pheasants.

At the end of the 2021 count, the results will be analysed by the GWCT. All participants will receive a report on the national results once they have been collated.

The Big Farmland Bird Count is kindly supported by CFE, FWAG, NSA, Camgrain, LEAF and CLA.

How to take part in the 2021 Big Farmland Bird Count:

As most participants count alone or with family members, outside, the Big Farmland Bird Count can be safely carried out within Covid-secure guidelines. Species guides, including short videos, will be available at www.bfbc.org.uk.

1) Download your count sheet from the BFBC website www.bfbc.org.uk

2) Count your birds! On a day between 5 and 14 February, spend about 30 minutes recording the species and number of birds seen on one particular area of the farm.

3) Once you’ve completed your count, simply submit your results at www.bfbc.org.uk

An infographic showing results of the 2020 Big Farmland Bird Count

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