The annual nationwide survey, organised by the GWCT and sponsored by the NFU for the past five years, provides a vital snapshot of the health of our cherished farmland birds.
2023 marks the 10th year of the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count – the first nationwide citizen science project to involve farmers in monitoring the state of farmland songbirds.
Since the first count in 2014, more than 11,000 counts have been carried out by people working on the land.
How to get involved
Visit GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count and follow these three simple steps:
- Download your count sheet
- Count your birds on one day between 3 and 19 February
- Submit your results online
NFU members, keep an eye out for some species to spot in your next issue of your British Farmer & Grower magazine
Farmers commitment to bird conservation
“The Big Farmland Bird Count, which the NFU is proud to sponsor, provides a fantastic snapshot of the huge amount of work being carried out on the nation’s farms to encourage wildlife. I would encourage all farmers to get involved in the count.”
NFU President Minette Batters
“Farmers and land managers do so much to support wildlife on farms and the Big Farmland Bird Count is an opportunity for them to see just what impact their efforts are having,” said Dr Roger Draycott, from the GWCT.
“By spending just half an hour between 3 and 19 February in one spot on your farm counting the birds you see and submitting your results to the GWCT, you will help us build a national picture of which species are benefiting from conservation efforts and which are most in need of help,” he added.
NFU President Minette Batters said: “The annual Big Farmland Bird Count, which the NFU is proud to sponsor, provides a fantastic snapshot of the huge amount of work being carried out on the nation’s farms to encourage wildlife.
“Not only are farmers across the country producing sustainable climate-friendly food, they are also maintaining and protecting the great British countryside, creating habitats for biodiversity to flourish and additional feeding for farmland birds.
“I would encourage all farmers to get involved in the count.”
Take part and make a difference
The latest assessment of the status of the UK’s birds, the Birds of Conservation Concern list (2021), suggests that our farmland birds need all the help they can get.
More than one in four UK bird species is in serious trouble, and many of the struggling species are farmland and upland birds.
“We will not halt the alarming declines of species such as curlew and skylarks if we leave it to nature reserves and national parks alone,” commented Roger. “72% of the UK’s countryside is managed by farmers, game keepers and land managers, so it is vital that we are all engaged in the effort to reverse biodiversity decline.”
Tips to help make a change
The GWCT suggest a few changes can make a big difference:
- Adopt effective conservation measures, such as providing supplementary winter feeding or growing crops specifically to provide seed for birds.
- Provide extra winter seed food. Supplementary feeding is particularly beneficial for birds of conservation concern like grey partridge, yellowhammer and corn bunting.
- Use ‘conservation headlands’ – wide field margins where little or no pesticides are used – to encourage insect populations and safe nesting habitat.
How does the count work?
The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count asks farmers and land managers to spend 30 minutes recording the bird species they see on their land as part of an annual nationwide survey which helps to identify any species which are struggling.
The count is a simple way for farmers and gamekeepers to assess the natural capital on farm, an increasing requirement under the government’s Environmental Land Management scheme, and to chart the effects of any conservation they carry out.
Completing it year after year can help to establish the biodiversity gains from long-term conservation efforts.
The scheme was launched in 2014 to highlight the positive work done by farmers and gamekeepers in helping to reverse the decline in farmland birds.
- Of these, starlings, lapwings, fieldfares, and linnets were the four most abundant red-listed species to be spotted, with over 125,000 counted, which equates to 29% of all species recorded.
- The most commonly seen species were blackbirds and woodpigeons, sighted by over 71% of participants.
- More than 63% saw robins, carrion crows and pheasants.
- The five most abundant birds seen were woodpigeons, starlings, lapwings, fieldfares and rooks, with a total of 204,398 spotted in total, which equates to 48% of all the birds counted.
- An impressive 26 red-listed species were recorded, with seven among the 25 most frequently seen species.
- Over 420,000 individual birds were counted in the survey
- 37% of participants are in some form of agri-environment scheme, demonstrating their long-term commitment to environmental management.
- 39% of those taking part were providing some form of extra seed feed for birds.
- The average farm size of those taking part was 948 acres (384 hectares).
Responses from across the United Kingdom
- Norfolk topped the leader board for the fourth year with 141 completed survey results.
- Hampshire and North Yorkshire came in second and third place with 80 and 78 counts respectively.
- Wiltshire and Suffolk cam joint fourth with 75 counts each.
- Responses also came from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.