Farmers are being urged to take part in the first annual Big Farmland Bird Count and help researchers understand how conservation work is helping threatened species.
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) says the event will be one of the largest counts of farmland birds ever undertaken in the UK.
It is due to take place between 1-7 February, when farmers will be invited to spend about half an hour recording the species and number of birds seen on one area of their farm.
Once sightings are recorded, they will be submitted either online or post to the GWCT.
Jim Egan, of the GWCT’s Allerton Project Farm, said, “Farmers and gamekeepers are responsible for managing the largest songbird habitat in this country on their land.
“Their efforts to ensure the future survival of many of our most cherished farmland bird species such as skylark, yellowhammer, corn buntings and wild grey partridges are therefore vital.
“We believe that having a better understanding of which conservation measures are proving to be attractive to birds and which are not will be enormously helpful in adding to our understanding of why our birds are still declining.”
Official figures suggest farmland bird numbers are falling. But many farmers dispute this.
Some 16,000ha (40,000 acres) of special wildlife seed crops are now being grown on farmland across England according to DEFRA and the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.
In addition, farmers provide thousands of tonnes of grain as supplementary food for farmland birds during the “hungry gap” – helping birds survive the leanest months of winter.
With all these vital green measures for wildlife being provided by farmers and gamekeepers, the GWCT said it was vital to understand which bird species are benefiting most.
Mr Egan said: “We hope it will spur people on to do even more work for their farmland birds in the future and will act as a catalyst for them to start building their own long-standing wildlife records.”
A GWCT pilot bird count last year involved more than 60 participants, including Staffordshire farmer Andy Roberts. He is taking part again this year.
Mr Roberts said: “For the past few years I have been providing supplementary grain for my wild birds and I have noticed a big difference in the number and variety of birds.
“I am now sharing the results through our webcam and twitter feed with many wildlife enthusiasts.
“The linnets, which are a red-listed species, are doing particularly well, and we have good populations of yellowhammer, reed buntings, bramblings and grey partridge.
Mr Roberts said he hoped the bird count would highlight the often unrecognised conservation efforts for wildlife carried out by the farming community.
“I would urge other farmers to get involved too,” he said.
TGWCT’s Big Farmland Bird Count is being generously sponsored by BASF and in partnership with the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group and Linking Environment and Farming.
For details, visit www.gwct.org.uk/bfbc
Farmland bird numbers continue to fall