The time has arrived to dust down your binoculars and start birdwatching, as the Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) is back for the fifth consecutive year.
Farmers, land managers and gamekeepers are being urged to circle Friday 9th February to Sunday 18th February in their diary for the count, which is run by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).
Many farmers and gamekeepers love to see barn owls, bullfinch, lapwing, grey partridge, tree sparrow and yellowhammer on their land – the BFBC is an opportunity to tell the wider world about the birds on farm.
It takes just 30 minutes to take part in the count, and founder Jim Egan is hoping for a big turnout.
“A great number of farmers and keepers are doing tremendous work to boost farmland birds and other wildlife. As well as planting seed mixes to provide winter feed, they also leave weedy stubbles over-winter, manage hedgerows so as to leave berries for food, and supplement this by putting out mixed seeds and grain on tracks and field margins,” he said.
“However, not everyone appreciates the extent to which farmers and keepers are managing existing habitats and creating new ones specifically to help our farmland birds. Now is the time to change all that.”
Jim is head of training and development at the GWCT’s renowned Allerton Project, where research has identified how to bring bird numbers back on productive farmland. The number of birds present there has been doubled by adapting a management system originally developed for gamebirds.
Each farmer has their own approach to wildlife conservation, but across the country the hard work being undertaken makes us optimistic for the future.
Mike Green, environmental and stewardship manager at BASF, the main sponsor of the BFBC, said: “The Big Farmland Bird Count is a wonderful opportunity for citizen science being carried out by farmers to demonstrate the range of species that depend and live on British farmland during the winter months.
“BASF is really excited about the continued involvement in this important initiative and is keen to help farmers show the quality of environmental work they can deliver.”
Guy Smith, vice president of NFU, said: “Farmers manage 70% of our iconic landscape and are committed to the environment. 10,000 football pitches worth of flower habitat have been planted, creating homes for wildlife, while more than 30,000km of hedgerows have been planted and restored.
“This year’s Big Farmland Bird Count provides farmers with another great opportunity to show that we are fully engaged with conservation. I would encourage as many farmers as possible to get the binoculars out, dust off the notepad, sharpen the pencil and get recording as you go out and about on the farm.”
Last year, 970 farmers and keepers took part and recorded 112 species across 900,000 acres.
They recorded 22 Red List species including fieldfare, tree sparrow, starling, yellowhammer and song thrush. There were wood pigeon, woodpecker, pheasant and grey partridge recorded.
The count aims to help farmers and keepers build a record of birds on their farm so they can, where necessary, target their conservation work.
CLA vice president Mark Tufnell said: “Anyone who works on and cares for the land is vital in helping to ensure the future survival of many of the country’s most cherished farmland bird species, so the more people we have participating the better.”
At the end of the count, the results will be analysed by the trust. All participants will receive a report on the national results once they have been collated.
● The BFBC is sponsored by BASF and delivered in partnership with FWAG Association and LEAF with support from the NFU, CLA and Kings.
How to take part in three simple steps
1 Download your count sheet at www.gwct.org.uk/bfbc
2 Count your birds! On a day between 9th and 18th 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.gwct.org.uk/bfbc