Blackbird on a brach with red berries

Hundreds of farmers have been taking part in this week’s Big Farmland Bird Count.

Organisers the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) said more than 2,000 farmers and gamekeepers across the UK had registered for the event, which runs from 7-15 February.

Now in its second year, it aims to see how conservation efforts are helping some of our most rapidly declining birds.

See also: Farmland bird count records 116 species

Early results from those returning count forms last weekend showed farmers had already recorded seeing 117 different types of birds.

Among these, 14 red-listed data species of birds have been monitored. These included linnet, yellowhammer, starling and lapwing.  

Blackbirds (pictured) have been recorded on 92% of farms taking part in the survey so far.

Jim Egan, GWCT head of training and development, said: “At this early stage in the count this is a remarkable result, both in terms of the range of species counted as well as the number of red-listed species being seen.

“It would be great if even more farmers went out counting their birds this coming weekend to showcase the great things they are doing for birds on the ground.”

Guy Smith, vice-president of the NFU, was one of the first farmers to submit his count, taken on his farm in St Osyth, Essex.

He said “I was surprised to record more than 24 different bird species, including curlew, barn owls and even a heron.

“It was a brilliant opportunity to take some time out on the farm and see my conservation efforts going to good use, but to also publicise farmers’ valued work to encourage wildlife to thrive on their land.

“We’re always interested in how many tonnes of wheat we can get to the hectare, now let’s systematically record how many bird species we can spot on our farms and send the results back to the GWCT.”

But the count is not just aimed at arable farmers. Leicesterhsire sheep farmer Ros Turner, who attended one of the GWCT’s bird identification training days ahead of the count, said: “It also highlights that grassland farms, including dairy and lowland beef and sheep farms, are playing their part too.  

“Species-rich permanent pasture has a wealth of biodiversity supporting both insect and seed-eating birds. Equally temporary grassland with its closely grazed and open swards can also provide an ideal habitat for threatened birds such as lapwing.”

Mr Turner urged all farmers, including grassland farmers, to get involved in the count and do their bit to help our farmland birds.

For those interested in taking part in the Big Farmland Bird Count, the GWCT is providing a simple tick sheet that can be downloaded from the GWCT website and taken in to the field for 30 minutes to record any sightings.

Participants will then be able to send the results either via a dedicated web page or through the post. The results will be announced in early spring.

To register interest and download count forms, please visit the GWCT’s website or telephone 01425 651011.