Big Farmland Bird Count sees more than 460,000 birds recorded

18 April 2023

An image of a sky lark

The GWCT (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust) Big Farmland Bird Count results revealed the extensive conservation work undertaken by farmers as a total of 149 species were recorded across more than 1.5 million acres.

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.

This year marks the 10th anniversary 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.

Bird count results at a glance

More than 1,700 farmers took part with the results showing that:

  • 67% of participants saw a blue tit during the count
  • 56% saw a buzzard
  • 42% saw a wren
  • 30% saw a skylark
  • 25% saw a kestrel
  • 13% saw a grey partridge
  • 33 species from the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern and 47 from the Amber list were also recorded.

Birds seen by less than 1% of participants included the elusive jack snipe and bittern, the rare and declining willow tit, and the red grouse, known to inhabit the uplands.

A picture of Minette Batters

“The results of this year’s count provide a fantastic and important snapshot of the range of wildlife on British farms."

NFU President Minette Batters

Responses from across the United Kingdom

  • Norfolk topped the leader board for the fifth year with 164 completed survey results.
  • Wiltshire and Suffolk came in second and third place with 109 and 93 counts respectively.
  • Hampshire came fourth with 85 counts.
  • Responses also came from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Farmers' commitment to bird conservation

“The fact that the count is still going strong after 10 years highlights the passion and commitment that British farmers have for the birds on their farms and their keenness to understand how the birds – whether Red-Listed or not – are faring,” said Dr Roger Draycott, from the GWCT.

The results also showed that many of the farmers who participated are involved in landscape-scale conservation projects such as farmer clusters. The number of participants in some form of agri-environment agreement has risen from 37% last year to 62%, with 47% providing extra seed for birds including wild bird seed mixes, scatter feeding or hoppers. 

NFU President Minette Batters expressed her thanks to all the farmers and growers who took part this year and described the results as “a fantastic and important snapshot of the range of wildlife on British farms”.

“Alongside producing quality, climate-friendly food, farmers are the custodians of the great British countryside and are working to boost biodiversity, create habitats for wildlife and provide additional feeding for farmland birds.

“It’s great to see this work paying off,” she said.

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.

Ask us a question about this page

Once you have submitted your query someone from NFU CallFirst will contact you. If needed, your query will then be passed to the appropriate NFU policy team.

You have 0 characters remaining.

By completing the form with your details on this page, you are agreeing to have this information sent to the NFU for the purposes of contacting you regarding your enquiry. Please take time to read the NFU’s Privacy Policy if you require further information.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.