How do farmers provide habitats for birds?

yellowhammer, big farmland birdcount_49999Picture above: A yellowhammer pictured on farm during the 2018 Big Farmland Bird Count

Whether it's helping birds get through the winter months by putting down seed or establishing woodlands and hedgerows to create habitat for birds and wildlife, British farmers work hard to protect our winged friends

The Big Farmland Bird Count

The Big Farmland Bird Count was launched in 2014 to record the effect of conservation work instigated by farmers and gamekeepers on their land. Organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), it is sponsored by the NFU and delivered in partnership with the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group Association and LEAF with support from the NFU, CLA, Perdix and Kings.

2019 saw a record-breaking number of farmers took part in the count. 1,400 people - a 40% increase on 2018 - recorded 140 species across 1 million acres.  The most commonly seen species woodpigeons, starlings, lapwings, black-headed gulls and rooks.

Encouragingly, a total of 30 red-listed species were recorded, with 5 appearing in the most-commonly seen species list. These included fieldfares, starlings, house sparrows, yellowhammers and song thrushes, with the first four seen by over 30% of the farms taking part.

2019 Big Farmland Bird Count results infographic_63360


  • 140 bird species were recorded during the 2019 Big Farmland Bird Count, 30 of them on the conservation ‘red list’ of threatened species. 


How can farms attract more bird species?

Meet the farmer - Saya Harvey

saya harvey biodiversity case study environment report_59472Saya Harvey grows cereals such as wheat and barley on a 120 hectare farm in Leicestershire. Alongside the planted crops, a quarter of the farm is dedicated to wildlife habitats, including grassland, flower margins and woodland. This work has been tailored to create habitats for farmland birds, including several tree sparrow colonies, grey partridge, skylark, starlings, song thrush and yellowhammer.

“Hedgerows are another very important wildlife habitat,” Saya says. “We’ve planted approximately two-and-a-half kilometres of hedge on the farm over the past 30 years. We now manage our hedges by traditional laying and trimming, which results in tall, wide and thick canopies with berries in the winter but also nice tight thorns to protect nesting birds from predators.

“Since planting the woodland, we have seen an increase in the number of bird species on the farm from 45 species to 60, including a pair of barn owls that have taken up residence in one of our barn owl boxes. A permissive right of way through the new woodland ensures that our whole community enjoys our farm, the wildlife and landscape.”

Meet the farmer - Nicholas Watts

Vine House Farm Nicholas Watts_53607

Lincolnshire farmer Nicholas Watts has dug ponds, planted grass margins, spinneys and hedges, and built bird boxes to create habitats for birds to flourish on his farm near Spalding.

His family grows 15 different crops, including potatoes, sugar beet, oilseed rape and wheat. Over the decades they have adapted the way they farm to help conserve as many species as possible.

“More cars, more people, more houses and more tarmac means fewer insects,” Nicholas says. “We’ve created areas rich in insects and this has attracted reed and sedge warblers, reed buntings and tree sparrows. We’ve increased the number of skylarks and meadow pipits too.”

Small changes to the way they farm have made a difference. When they’re planting their winter wheat, they pause the machine for a couple of seconds to leave a blank area in the crop, which is useful for skylarks to nest in. They also cut hedges less frequently to help nesting birds and ensure more food supply for both the birds themselves and the insects they feed on.

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Related categories: Birds Environment Wildlife

Last edited:03 October 2019 at 09:54