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Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust launches its 2015 Big Farmland Bird Count

PUBLISHED: 05:45 13 December 2014

Farmers, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, former agriculture minister Jim Paice MP gathered for the national launch of scheme to save farmland birds at Lodge Farm in Westhorpe.

Farmers, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, former agriculture minister Jim Paice MP gathered for the national launch of scheme to save farmland birds at Lodge Farm in Westhorpe.

A national initiative has been launched in East Anglia to record and study the farmland birds which rely on the biodiversity of Britain’s agricultural landscapes.

Leading figures from the agriculture sector and representatives from several nature conservation groups gathered on an environmental “exemplar” farm to start the build-up to the Big Farmland Bird Count 2015.

The count, the second to be organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), is scheduled to take place between February 7 and February 15 and the research charity is asking farmers, landowners, birdwatchers and gamekeepers to take part.

Several species of farmland birds are among the fastest declining birds in the UK and it is hoped that the information gained in the count will help in the planning and execution of conservation efforts on agricultural land across Britain.

The count’s launch was hosted by EJ Barker and Sons at Lodge Farm, Westhorpe, near Stowmarket, which won the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group’s (FWAG’s) national Silver Lapwing Award for its nature conservation work in 2009 and is a demonstration farm for the Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF) organisation.

How to get involved

For the Big Farmland Bird Count, participants are being asked to spend 30 minutes recording the species and numbers of birds they see on any area of participating farmland. The data will be collated by GWCT and made publicly available.

The aim is to get more than 1,500 farmers involved in the 2015 count, so an identification guide has been provided online and hard copies will be available at a series of special bird identification days being held throughout January, with the help of experts from GWCT, FWAG, Natural England and the RSPB.

The East Anglian identification days are due to be held in Downham Market on January 21 and in Hockwold on January 26.

To register interest in attending a bird identification day or to download count forms, visit www.gwct.org.uk/BFBC or phone 01425 651000.

Jim Egan is head of training and development for the GWCT’s Allerton Project, which researches the effects of farming methods on wildlife and the environment, said 550 farmers took part in the inaugural Big Farmland Bird Count last year.

“It was a remarkable achievement,” said Mr Egan. “Farmers who participated in our count recorded over 116 species of birds – many of which are on the red list of birds of conservation concern, such as starling, lapwing and tree sparrow.

“Farmers certainly demonstrated how much they care about their wonderful farmland birds by getting involved in our count. It also showed that even some of our most rapidly declining bird species are out there and being supported by the many conservation measures that are being implemented on UK farmland.”

Launch guests, including former agriculture minister and South-East Cambridgeshire MP Sir James Paice, were told of some of the measures that were being taken on many UK farms to improve the environment for wildlife.

GWCT farmland biodiversity adviser Peter Thompson said the general public often did not appreciate the extent of such work.

“When I ask people what percentage of farmers they think are in stewardship schemes many answer that they think it is somewhere between 5pc and 10pc,” he said. “It is actually 74pc and when I tell them that they are flabbergasted so we need to do more to promote what we are doing on farms – there is so much good work going on.

“There have been declines, yes, there is no doubt about that, but farmers are doing fantastic things.”

Mr Thompson highlighted conservation measures that could assist several declining farmland bird species.

Grey partridges could be helped by the provision of hedges and insect-rich field margins and uncropped cereal headlands, together with weedy stubbles being left over winter.

“Greening” fields with types of brassica would assist species like yellowhammer, reed bunting and corn bunting, said Mr Thompson. Lapwings could be helped by the provision of fallow plots, which could also help skylarks and meadow pipits while another declining species, tree sparrow, could benefit from the provision of nest boxes.

The launch event included a birdwatching walk around the farm and a demonstration of bird-ringing by licensed experts from the Waveney Bird Club who ring birds under the auspices of the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology.

The initiative is sponsored by BASF and is being run in partnership the FWAG Association and LEAF. It is supported by a range of organisations including, the RSPB, Kings, Waitrose, the NFU, CFE, CLA, the Soil Association, the Heather Trust, Conservation Grade and the Countryside Alliance.

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