Taking part in the GWCT UK Big Farmland Bird Count and the state of British Farmland Birds

Yesterday morning my family and I set out to take part in the Big Farmland Bird Count, an event organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust to assess the state of farmland birds across the country. Our farm in Essex is of mixed land use including arable and permanent grassland. We decided to do the count at a spot where we could see both landscapes. One of the benefits of having a relatively flat Essex coastal farm is that you can see for miles around and with the Hamford Water National Nature Reserve adjacent to us we are blessed with numerous wetland birds.

The count itself takes place this year between the 7th and 15th February and the idea is that farmers and landowners will spend 30 minutes at one spot counting the species and numbers of birds spotted during that period. In 2014 more than 500 farmers took part, managing nearly 500,000 acres of UK farmland. The results from last year can be found by clicking here.

Our own results from yesterday were:

Barn Owl – 1

Brent Goose – 28

Common Gull – 16

Coot – 3

Cormorant – 2

Little Egret – 3

Lapwing – 1

Oyster Catcher – 5

Pheasant – 2

Redshank – 1

Reedbunting – 1

Shelduck – 6

Skylark – 5

Snipe -1

Starling – 5

Teal – 1

Tree Sparrow – 1

The decline of farmland birds is particularly acute in England with the Government’s Farmland Bird Indicator which was published last October showing a distinct decline in numbers of many of the 19 species reliant on farmland, such as yellowhammer, skylark and turtle dove. In the last five years there has been a decline of 10% and this is raised to 55% when comparing to numbers in 1970. Many farmers are doing some wonderful things as part of agri-environmental schemes and wild bird seed is becoming more of a common sight across the countryside, in addition to widened margins. However, radical thinking will be required if we are to turn the clock back whilst also intensifying food production to produce enough for a growing human population. The decline in bird numbers is reflected in the decline in farmland butterflies, moths and ground dwelling beetles. It is therefore an ecosystem wide problem and farmers, conservationists, politicians, policy makers and NGOs are going to have to work quickly to come up with a solution before we see an even more diluted biodiversity in our countryside.

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