West Norfolk farmer Joe Martin is one of more than thousand across the UK who will be rising to the challenge of counting birds on his farm.
Mr Martin, of Ouse Bridge Farm, near Denver Sluice, is one of the directors of Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) and also chairman of the national FWAG Association.
More than 1,400 farmers across the country have registered to take part in the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) second Big Farmland Bird Count, which takes place between February 7 and 15.
The event aims to show how conservation management is being implemented on farmland for the benefit of declining bird species such as starling, grey partridge and yellowhammer.
Said Mr Martin: “Farmland birds are declining and have been continuing to do so since measuring was started in 1970. If farmers can see how conservation is helping, it will enthuse them.
“The key things are to provide the right habitat for nesting birds; provide insect areas to enable birds to feed their chicks; and also food for the winter months.”
February is one of the leanest times of year for farmland birds because there is very little spilt grain or berries left for hungry birds to feed on to help them survive. However, last year’s Big Farmland Bird Count revealed that more than 60 per cent of farmers taking part in the survey were providing huge amounts of additional food, either by wild seed mixes, hopper feeding or by scattering grain on the ground.
Jim Egan, from the GWCT said it was crucial for farmers to understand how the impact of their greening measures were helping declining birds. He said: “Having a better understanding of what is working well is hugely important as it will help farmers to target their work for farmland bird recovery more accurately.”
During the count farmers and gamekeepers will be invited to spend half an hour recording the species and number of birds seen on one area of the farm. Once the sightings have been recorded they should be emailed or posted to the GWCT at www.gwct.org.uk/bfbc.
In addition to running the Big Farmland Bird Count, the GWCT organised a series of Farmland Bird Identification Days. One was held at Mr Martin’s farm last week and Henry Walker, of Norfolk FWAG, was on hand to offer advice.
Said Mr Martin: “We had around 20 farmers attend and there were experts on hand who helped to explain how to identify ‘little brown jobs’, which are species difficult to recognise. It was fascinating and we learned several tricks about how to identify certain birds.”