Turtle dove

Farmland Bird Decline

DEFRA published a report this month which revealed a sharp drop in the number of species reliant on farmed landscapes between 1995 and 2012, with the turtle dove population plummeting by 89 per cent in its breeding stronghold of the East of England.

Defra’s Farmland Bird Indicator tracks the fortunes of 19 bird species including grey partridge, which has declined by 41 per cent in the East during the same period, along with skylarks (down 23pc), corn buntings (17pc) and yellowhammers (18pc).

Since 1970, the overall indicator has fallen by more than half to its lowest recorded level, with the majority of the decline occurring between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, largely due to the impact of rapid changes in farmland management.

In a bid to reverse these trends, FWAG groups in the region are working with hundreds of farmers in the East to put in place measures including planting crops that provide insects and seeds for foraging birds, and leaving spaces for ground-nesting birds.

The current environmental stewardship schemes which reward farmers for conservation efforts are being phased out to be replaced by the New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS) from 2016. This will be known as Countryside Stewardship.

FWAG has a long tradition of supporting farmers in making the most of the ever-changing agri-environment system. Heidi Thompson, from the Norfolk branch of FWAG, known as Farm Conservation Ltd, said “this is not just about birds. Birds are just a very visible indicator of the health of a farm ecosystem. FWAG members have made an enormous difference to the farmland bird numbers their land. For example, one of our Directors, Joe Martin who farms near Denver in the Fens, has recorded a threefold increase in numbers of corn buntings, tree sparrows and linnets since he introduced conservation measures and supplementary feeding 6 years ago”

One of the ways farmers can demonstrate the positive impact they are having, is to take part in the Big Farmland Bird Count and partridge count, organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

For advice on enhancing the environment on your farm, contact us today.

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FWAG East is part of the FWAG Association: FWAG East CIC is a limited company registered in England. Registered No: 08776388. Thanks to Chris Loades for images: