The annual survey organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) takes a health check on how birdlife is faring on farmland across the country.
“The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count shows that farmers are not only on the frontline of the country’s ever more important food security, but also its conservation efforts,” said Dr Roger Draycott, GWCT head of advisory, who co-ordinates the survey.
“The count highlights the commitment of land managers to not only undertake farmland wildlife conservation measures, but also to record and evaluate the benefits of that vital work.”
More than 1,900 farmers and land managers overcame the “challenging” weather conditions in February to take part with every county in England represented.
Although figures were slightly down on last year, which saw a record number of people taking part, North Yorkshire farmers and gamekeepers were in the top three for the number of counts returned with 78, beaten by Hampshire with 80 and Norfolk holding onto the top spot with 141 completing the survey.
“Although the total number of participants is down a little after the extraordinary growth we saw in 2021 – up 65 per cent in one year – we have continued to see a steady rise since we started the count in 2014, allowing us to build a vital picture of the health of our farmland bird species,” Dr Draycott said.
“I think this year’s dip is probably due to a combination of the dreadful weather in February, the nationwide lockdown during last year’s survey period which encouraged people to get out and count, and the unprecedented pressures currently facing farmers,” he added.
This is the seventh year the count, which is supported by a number of farming and rural organisations, has taken place and among the red-listed species recorded this winter, seven were amongst the 25 most frequently seen.
Of these, starlings, lapwings, fieldfares, and linnets were the four most abundant red-listed species to be spotted, with over 125,000 counted, which equates to 29 per cent of all species recorded.
The most commonly seen were blackbirds and woodpigeons, sighted by more than 71 per cent of participants, while more than 63 per cent saw robins, carrion crows and pheasants.
The five most abundant birds seen were woodpigeons, starlings, lapwings, fieldfares and rooks: a total of 204,398 individuals, making up over 48 per cent of the total number of birds counted. Dr Draycott said The Big Farmland Bird Count was launched in 2014 to highlight the positive work done by farmers and gamekeepers in helping to reverse the decline in farmland bird numbers.
He added that with an increased focus on delivering public goods in the Government’s Environmental Land Management scheme, understanding what is on your land is increasingly important.
NFU president Minette Batters said: “Although Britain’s farmers are focused on the importance of producing the nation’s food, they are passionate about protecting the countryside, and the results from the latest Big Farmland Bird Count provide a fantastic snapshot of the huge amount of work being carried out on our farms to encourage wildlife.”