A bird in hand…

A bird in the hand may be worth two in the bush, but a bird on the land is worth cash in the bank. Birds are big business — and it’s booming.

When the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds became the first UK charity to hit the 1m member level it was clear proof that the nation’s love affair with birds had become deeper than ever.

But while bird tables laden with seed underpin a multi-million pound industry, feeding the public’s feel-good factor about bird conservation, away from suburban back gardens it is farmers and landowners who hold the key to the survival of many British bird species.

Even if you wouldn’t know a hawfinch from a bullfinch, bird conservation can be a useful source of income.

And for once farm business advisers and conservationists are singing from the same song-post; they all agree that taking care of birds makes economic sense.

If you tick the right boxes in the five-year Entry Level Stewardship Scheme you are well on the way to getting your 30/ha for habitat management.

There’s 150m on the table every year to fund the ELS scheme and DEFRA reckons there’ll be an 80% uptake.

It will pave the way for major changes in the way land is farmed that will be good for birds.

Higher levels of funding are available through the 15m 10-year-term Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, providing you meet a stricter set of criteria and your application is approved.

You’ll have to deliver specific environmental benefits such as fallow plots for ground nesting birds, low input cereals followed by stubble and a spring crop or possibly arable reversion to unfertilised grass.

So who do you contact first?

The DEFRA Entry Level Stewardship scheme gives all farmers the opportunity to manage their farms for the benefit of wildlife – and that includes birds.

Although some farmers are already seeking advice from their local FWAG adviser or from the RSPB, completing the ELS scheme forms isn’t difficult.

In many cases farmers will fairly easily get up to two-thirds of their qualifying total of 30 points – which equates to 30/ha – by agreeing to undertake some of the 60 specific habitat maintenance options.

These include leaving field margins, hedgerow and ditch management, protecting in-field trees and creating skylark scrapes.