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Birds flock to farmland this winter in a million acre count

PUBLISHED: 13:36 21 April 2015 | UPDATED: 09:25 22 April 2015

The redwing was one of 19 red-listed species spotted by farmers during the Big Farmland Bird Count. (Picture: Peter Thompson)

The redwing was one of 19 red-listed species spotted by farmers during the Big Farmland Bird Count. (Picture: Peter Thompson)

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The GWCT’s second Big Farmland Bird Count records the blackbird as the most common bird seen on farms, and adds 11 species to the list compiled last year.

An army of farmers, gamekeepers and land managers looking after nearly one million acres of farmland turned out in their droves this winter to count their birds in the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s second Big Farmland Bird Count, which ran between 7-15 February.

Spending just half-an-hour during the week-long count nearly 1,000 people, representing every county in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, swapped their tractors for binoculars to see how their conservation efforts are boosting the recovery of farmland birds.

Jim Egan, from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project, who originated the idea, said, “We are delighted to have received so much industry support from farmers and gamekeepers, which is reflected in the results of this second count. Double the number of people turned out this winter and between them they recorded more than 127 different species on their farms and estates. This was a remarkable achievement, particularly as they monitored an additional 11 species compared to 2014.”

It was interesting to note that nearly 50 per cent of farmers taking part in the survey reported that they had a shoot on their land with 57 per cent releasing birds as well as growing important crops such as wild bird seed mixes, or cover crops as well as over-winter feeding through hoppers.

The five most common birds seen on farms this winter were blackbird, seen by nearly 90 per cent of people, followed by robin (80 per cent), blue tit (79 per cent), chaffinch (75 per cent) and carrion crow seen by over 70 per cent of those taking part.

A total of 19 red list species of conservation concern were also recorded with six appearing in the list of 25 most commonly seen species list. Starlings and fieldfare were seen on over 40 per cent of the farms taking part and were the most abundant red-listed species recorded followed by linnet, yellowhammer, house sparrow, lapwing and redwing.

Compared with last year, 11 additional species of birds were added to the list of birds recorded, including cirl bunting and Cettie’s warbler. In addition, 13 species of raptor were counted with goshawk included in the results for the first time this year.

Jim Egan explains the results, “Even though this is only its second year, we are seeing an increase in the number of birds and the range of species seen – especially red-listed species. These are some of our most rapidly declining birds but they are still out there and are being supported by our farmers through the many conservation measures that are now being implemented on UK farmland.”

The third GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count will take place during the week of 6 -14 February 2016. Jim Egan comments, “Interest in the results of our count is definitely growing and we very much hope that even more farmers and keepers will get involved in counting their farmland birds next year. This knowledge is important as it will help those taking part to start building a more comprehensive picture of how their over-wintering birds are faring from conservation measures being implemented.”

More bird identification days will be arranged for January 2016 and people can already start to register their interest in these on the GWCT website at: www.gwct.org.uk/bfbcregister

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