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‘Inspired’ count marks a decade of progress

Ten years after the first farmland count, this ‘citizen science’ is more important than ever and every farmer should be involved this time.

The 11th Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) started this month. The GWCT launched the count in 2014 and it has helped provide a snapshot of the progress of conservation in the farmed landscape for a decade. This year’s count runs from 2 to 18 February. 

The count now covers three times the area it did 10 years ago and has shown that average farm sizes have almost doubled. The initiative has revealed that farmers are putting down less extra food for birds over the winter, which may be linked to the decreasing number of commercial pheasant shoots. The BFBC provides valuable data to the GWCT, the NFU (National Farmers’ Union) and policymakers on the state and trends of farmland birds and the effectiveness of conservation measures. 

Last year, more than 1,700 farms took part and more than 460,000 birds of 149 different species were recorded across 1.5 million acres. 

Conservationist and author Richard Negus told ST: “The Big Farmland Bird Count is an inspired notion. Farmers often get a lot of negative attention from NGOs [non-governmental organisations], who seem to blame them for all manner of conservation misdeeds, and the farming community has never been particularly effective at refuting these accusations. The annual count highlights the efficacy of the efforts of farmers to address this. 

“It is a great example of cold, hard, citizen-science data harvesting by farmers, that should serve to subdue detractors,” he added. “The count opens farmers’ eyes to the bird species present on their farms and motivates them to take pride in them.” 

Essex-based wildfowler and farmer Simon Garnham said: “The Big Farmland Bird Count has become a fixture in the diary for me. Every time we do the count there is something new to note and it’s also an excellent opportunity to plan spring-time habitat and predator management. 

“If the shooting community is serious about conservation, which I know we are, the Big Farmland Bird Count should be compulsory,” he added.