Take part in the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count

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Sponsored by the NFU.

A call has gone out to the UK’s land managers to take part in the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count from 4 – 20 February 2022.

“Gamekeepers and farmers are vital in helping to ensure the survival of many of our cherished farmland bird species such as skylark, yellowhammer, corn buntings and wild grey partridges,” said the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Dr Roger Draycott, who runs the count. “They are responsible for managing the largest songbird habitat in this country on their land, so they are in a position to make a real difference.”

The Big Farmland Bird Count has been organised by the GWCT every year since 2014 to encourage farmers and gamekeepers to support farmland birds and highlight the hard work already done by many of them to help reverse species’ declines. The count also gives a vital national snapshot of the health of the UK’s birdlife.

2,500 counts were completed in 2021, an impressive increase on 2020 when 1,500 count forms came into the GWCT. And the area covered by 2021’s count was a massive 2.5million acres of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, up from 1.4million acres the year before.

“Now we are challenging the UK’s land managers to beat their own record and make 2022’s count bigger than ever,” said Roger Draycott.

Chris Broughton from Somerset, explained why he does the count:

“Taking part in the Big Farmland Bird count is an easy way to provide the GWCT with information relating to the benefits of shooting estate management, it also provides a great excuse to stop and really look at what you have on your patch, record it, and then make plans to improve. Probably one of the most enjoyable and beneficial half hours of the year.”

To take part:

Simply download a count sheet from bfbc.org.uk and spend just 30 minutes between 4 and 20 February counting birds on one spot on farm, plus a few minutes inputting results via the website.Guides to counting and identifying birds, biodiversity-boosting tips, and more details on taking part are all available on the website. Participants are encouraged to share photos or videos of themselves counting on social media using #bfbc.

Boosting biodiversity:

For land managers keen to support wild birds, a few small changes can have a significant impact. The GWCT’s Advisory team offers advice on improving biodiversity on farms and shoots.

“Modern farming methods mean that there is often not enough natural food for wildlife left in the countryside in late winter and early spring,” said Roger Draycott. “One of the best ways to support wild and game birds is to provide extra winter seed food.  Supplementary feeding is particularly beneficial for birds of conservation concern like grey partridge, yellowhammer and corn bunting.”

The use of ‘conservation headlands’ – wide field margins where little or no pesticides are used – is also very good for farmland birds. Allowing broad-leaved weeds to flourish boosts insect populations which are a key food-source for birds. Planting and managing hedgerows also provides crucial food, as well as nesting habitat and a safe haven from predators.

GWCT advisors also encourage land managers to maintain small wet areas around the farm, such as ditches, scrapes and even old horse ponds. These can help to attract wading birds and provide nesting and foraging sites for a range of birds, including threatened species like snipe and lapwing.

By leaving an area of uncropped, cultivated land farmers can provide suitable nesting and foraging areas for birds which prefer to forage on open ground, such as the red-listed lapwing, skylark, stone curlew and turtle dove.