The project, which will run until March 2011, will help the species of birds, plants and mammals associated with arable farmland through the implementation of wildlife-friendly land management practices using Natural England?s Environmental Stewardship scheme.

Natural England?s Poul Christensen said: ?Reversing the decline in farmland birds such as corn buntings and yellow wagtails is crucial, not just for the species? populations but because these species are an important indicator of the ecological health of the wider countryside.?

He added: ?This project will see farmers and conservationists come together with the common aim of increasing the population of specific bird species across a wide area. Not only will this give us a greater chance to see these stunning birds and increase the health of the natural environment, but other plant and animal species such as brown hares will also benefit. We are indebted to the work of many across the region who have helped us to get this pioneering initiative off the ground.?

Ian Boyd, one of the first farmers to join the project in the Cotswolds, said: ?I am excited about the pioneering approach of the project and it should appeal to many other farmers in this area. It would be great to lead the country with a project of this kind.?

A key feature of the SWFBI is its partnership approach and the initiative consists of four sister projects, each led by a partner organisation. Four dedicated advisers – for the Cotswolds, North Wessex, Cranborne Chase and Dorset – will deliver a combination of tailored advice via one-to-one farm visits and workshops where best practice can be shared.

This approach will encourage land managers to put the right measures in place, helping them to deliver top-quality habitat, thus contributing to the government?s objective of reversing the decline in farmland bird populations.

It is hoped that other species such as the skylark and brown hare may also benefit from the project.

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