Bird surveys conducted at FarmED have shown that the diversity of bird species on the farm has risen significantly over recent years, rising from 44 different species recorded in 2014 to a cumulative total of 84 by 2020. This spring, the survey highlighted the presence of seven species which are included on the RSPB’s endangered red list, plus six species which have amber status.
The RSPB’s red list is the category for species identified as threatened and ‘needing urgent action’ for various reasons, including having experienced a historical population decline in the UK during 1800–1995, a severe (at least 50%) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years, or severe (at least 50%) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years.
The seven red list species recorded at FarmED this spring are as follows:
Skylark - Skylark populations are declining in almost all countries of northern and western Europe. In the UK, the population halved during the 1990s, and is still declining. The UK Farmland Bird Indicator 1970-2007, shows a 51% drop.
Song Thrush - the British Trust for Ornithology shows that the population in England declined by more than 50 per cent between 1970 and 1995. This decline was again most pronounced on farmland, where the population decreased by about 70 per cent.
Yellowhammer - Male yellowhammers, with their unmistakable bright yellow head and underparts, are often seen perched on top of a hedge or bush, singing. Their population decline has been a recent issue.
Corn Bunting - With their appealing male song, corn buntings were the quintessential ‘farmer’s bird’ in former decades. It has disappeared from most farms during the last four decades. The UK Farmland Bird Indicator 1970-2007, shows a 90% decline.
Cuckoo - The cuckoo's distinctive call is becoming an increasingly rare springtime sound, with a 37% decline in the species since the mid-1990s.
Grey Partridge - Once very common and widespread, it has undergone serious declines throughout most of its range, with an 87% decline on the UK Farmland Bird Indicator 1970-2007.
Linnet - numbers have dropped substantially over the past few decades, with the UK population estimated to have declined by 57 per cent between 1970 and 2014. The latest RSPB Breeding Bird Survey results show a decrease in all countries.
Amber is the next most critical group and six bird species on this list have been recorded at FarmED over the past weeks:
Farmland is the preferred habitat of many British bird species and with 70% of the land in the UK given over to agriculture, farmers can help to overturn this decline by using management practices such as Countryside Stewardship within farmland. Two years ago, the RSPB reported that in a 6 year case study across 60 farms in stewardship, 17 priority bird species increased in abundance by an average of 163% (numbers more than doubled).
The Big Farmland Bird Count last year recorded a total of 30 species from the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern, with 5 appearing in the 25 most commonly seen species list: fieldfares, starlings, house sparrows, yellowhammers and song thrushes. The first four were seen by over 30% of the farms taking part and 8 of the top 25 most abundant species were on the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern:starlings, fieldfares, lapwings, linnets, redwings, herring gulls, yellowhammers,and house sparrows.
Farming in harmony with nature has been a high priority for us and we’ve embarked on a series of projects to create habitats, provide nesting boxes and implement supplementary bird feeding programmes.
During the construction of the new eco buildings at FarmED we’ve been giving just as much consideration to birds as to the humans who will be using the centre. The three buildings have all been fitted with delux Schwegler bird boxes which have been built into the gable ends during construction. Integral to the buildings, they provide weatherproof and secure nesting sites for a variety of birds. We’ve also installed six Schwegler swallow cups inside the gable end of the machinery shed as well as a kestrel box high up at the entrance on the outside of the same gable.
We avoid the use of pesticides and we’ve also sown a wild bird seed mix featuring a cocktail of fifty cereal, legume and other seed bearing plants designed to feed a variety of birds through the winter. When our sown plots have been exhausted we embark on supplementary winter feeding, broadcasting mixed seed on the ground every other day and topping up the hanging feeders/hoppers. Keeping birds well fed in the hungry gap is crucial.
As part of our Countryside Stewardship agreement we’ve also created extensive flower rich margins and plots providing important habitats and we’re committed to growing open-structured cereal crops to provide additional summer foraging sites. We leave most of our hedges uncut providing wonderful nesting habitat, perching posts and winter cover.
Our approach shows that diverse cropping and management leads to a greater diversity of species.