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Take part in the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count and make a real difference to Wales’s songbirds

Linnet - credit: Tom Reading

A CALL has gone out to farmers, gamekeepers and land managers in Wales to take part in the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count from 4 – 20 February 2022.

“Farmers and gamekeepers are vital in helping to ensure the survival of many of our cherished farmland bird species such as skylark, yellowhammer, linnet and greenfinch,” said the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s head of education and advisor for Wales, Matthew Goodall. “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 across the UK 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 country’s birdlife.

For the fourth year running 2022’s count is sponsored by the National Farmers’ Union for England and Wales (NFU), demonstrating the farming community’s commitment to conserving farmland birds.  NFU president Minette Batters, said: “2021’s results were fantastic with farmers and growers across the UK responding to the count in record numbers. 

“Not only are farmers producing climate-friendly food, they are also maintaining and protecting the great British countryside, creating habitats for wildlife and additional feeding for farmland birds. I encourage all farmers to get involved in the 2022 GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count.”

2,500 counts were completed across the UK 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 Matthew Goodall.

Big Farmland Bird Count

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 Matthew. “One of the best ways to support wildlife and game birds is to provide extra winter seed food.  Supplementary feeding is particularly beneficial for birds of conservation concern like yellowhammer, linnet and reed bunting.”

The use of ‘wild bird seed mixes’ in small fields or strips planted in the margins of pasture fields– is very good for farmland birds. Leaving rough corners and streamside corridors un-grazed can also boost insect populations which are a key food-source for birds. Planting and managing hedgerows also provides crucial food, nesting habitat and a safe haven from predators whilst also providing shelter for livestock

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.

Re-introducing spring cereals where possible is very important for many species and can provide suitable nesting and foraging areas for birds which prefer to forage on open ground, such as the red-listed lapwing, and amber-listed skylark.