The Big Farmland Bird Count is an enjoyable and rewarding event in the agricultural calendar and 2021 sees it return for its eighth year.
The count, organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), will take place between 5th-14th February during which farmers and land managers are encouraged to spend time recording the number and species of birds they see on farm. Participants share their findings via the Big Farmland Bird Count website, with the results helping the GWCT to monitor wild bird populations and record the positive effect of conservation and supplementary feeding efforts on farms across the country.
Last year, over 1,500 farmers counted 120 different bird species. This was a record turnout – but can we make 2021 bigger and better?
How the Big Farmland Bird Count works
If you've not taken part in the count before, getting involved is simple.
Get your count sheets ready
Count sheets can be downloaded direct from the Big Farmland Bird Count website, where you'll also find instructions on how to submit results.
Decide your count location
To conduct the count, you are encouraged to stand at a chosen location on farm for just half an hour and note the bird species seen. It's useful to pick a location where seed has been provided for the birds, either through wild bird seed mixes or supplementary feeding, or to stand next to cover such as hedgerows.
What time is best?
Dawn or dusk are considered the best times for counting as this is often when birds are most active.
Some of the farmland birds to look out for
Six species which can be encountered during the Big Farmland Bird Count are:
The barn owl is a distinctive white owl, which can often be seen at dusk patrolling tussocky grass field margins looking for voles.
This grey thrush, slightly bigger than our own song thrush, is a winter visitor from Scandinavia. Fieldfare often form large flocks with their redwing cousins and feed on a diet of berries when they arrive in October, switching to earthworms before they depart in March. They can often be seen in the middle of fields at this time of year as they probe the soil for food. Their loud 'chatter' as they fly across winter skies is unmistakable.
This beautiful plover has distinct green plumage with a white belly and a crest on its head. Our breeding population is swelled by continental birds at this time of year and, like fieldfares, lapwings are often out in the middle of fields in large numbers at this time of year, looking for soil-dwelling insect larvae and earthworms.
Skylarks are not always easy to identify, but they make their presence much more known in the spring with a fantastic towering call which can be heard across the farmed landscape. They are a resident species and prefer seed being put out on trackways at this time of year. They often feed in large groups, are slightly smaller than a blackbird, and have an obvious white colouring on the edges of their tails as they fly away.
Need to brush up on your bird profiles? There is an excellent identification guide on the Big Farmland Bird Count website plus lots of other useful information. Take a look here.
Learn how to recognise farmland bird species with Jim Egan on BBC Radio Lincolnshire
Kings technical advisor, Jim Egan – formerly of GWCT and founder of the Big Farmland Bird Count – will be talking all things farmland birds on the Wake Up To Farming segment of BBC Radio Lincolnshire's breakfast show.
Jim will be on air throughout the count to talk about different farmland birds and how to identify them, as well as discussing the important work farmers undertake to support farm wildlife and the environment.
Wake Up To Farming starts at 6.50am on BBC Radio Lincolnshire as part of Sean Dunderdale's show. Listen live here or tune in on 94.9 and 104.7 FM.
Time spent counting is time well spent – be part of the national effort
Farmers, gamekeepers and land managers are crucial to the survival of farmland birds, especially when undertaking conservation efforts such as supplementary feeding and habitat management.
The results from the Big Farmland Bird Count provide evidence that these practices make a difference on a national scale and help to inform the ongoing research of the GWCT. If you're working to protect farmland birds on your land, the count is a satisfying way to measure your success and understand more about how different species are faring.
With only thirty minutes required of your time, you can be part of a national movement on a local scale, enjoy a little escapism, and take count of what your hard work has achieved. Grab your binoculars and give it a go! Everything you need to get started can be found here.
Share what you see
Why not share some of the species you see with us? If you're fortunate enough to capture some great pictures of your resident farmland birds, you can share them to social media with the hashtag #BigFarmlandBirdCount. You can also tag the GWCT on Twitter at @Gameandwildlife as well as our own account @Kingscrops where, as proud partners of the initiative, we'll be sharing more news throughout the event too. Good luck!