When was the last time you had a cirl bunting on your farm?
My guess is unless you live in Devon or parts of Cornwall you’ve probably never heard of them.
These relatives of yellowhammers, until the turn of the 19th century, had a stronghold throughout southern England and into parts of Wales and the Midlands. But by 1989 there were just 118 pairs, mostly in Devon. RSPB along with Natural England started to work with farmers in south Devon to try to save the cirl bunting.
Cirl buntings are birds of mixed farmland and the loss of sources of winter food and nest sites were the major reasons for the dramatic decline.
The birds need to forage in weedy stubble fields in winter, in spring they nest in hedges or scrub and feed their chicks on insects, particularly grasshoppers and are often associated with semi-improved grassland. And because they don’t tend to move very far from where they grew up, all of these habitats need to be close together.
They hung on in south Devon because small, traditionally mixed farms persisted with spring-sown crops such as barley and maintained the required habitat diversity.
(RSPB reserve Labrador Bay, managed for cirl buntings; Photo by Andy Hay)
More than twenty years later, the 2009 national survey showed that there were 862 pairs in south Devon and Cornwall. This increase has only been possible because of close work with farmers and the availability of agri-environment schemes. Indeed research showed that cirl buntings increased by 83% on farms in Countryside Stewardship compared to only a 2% increase elsewhere!
Here we have the annual newsletter of the cirl bunting project
Find out how the project is going now, how Entry Level Stewardship can be used to help, what the local farmers think, and another local species being helped by South West farmers.
Welcome to my office. I reckon it’s one of the biggest in the UK.
Vaguely speaking, the ‘walls’ are the A14 to the south, the Cambridgeshire border to the west, the start of the sandy Brecks to the east, and to the North... Well I haven’t quite decided but it’s somewhere in Lincolnshire.
My ‘patch’ is based on a farmland bird ‘hotspot’. Here’s a map of it – striking isn’t it? The red and orange dots are the areas where five or six of our fastest declining farmland bird species are still clinging on.
The full map (and associated credits!) is here – are you in a farmland bird hotspot?
Of course an office this size has advantages and disadvantages. There’s rarely a queue at the water cooler. But it also means that I have to drive for up to an hour to get out of it! As a farmland adviser, I find myself working pretty much all the time, looking for farmland birds and absent-mindedly designing Stewardship applications on my way to the shops.
Occasionally I am summoned to our Regional Office in Norwich, and the train journey has a similar effect. Seemingly endless hectares of sugar beet and wheat whizz by and I find myself looking for those awkward corners in fields or areas that haven’t cropped very well, which would be very productive for wildlife if managed the right way.
But now there’s something else to see. Next time you happen to take a train from March to Norwich, look closely at the countryside – what are those small neat bare patches dotted at intervals in that wheat field? Why is that strip of land rich in colourful wildflowers?
Spot the square – skylark plots appearing in the Fens last spring
The detailed answers to these questions and many more can be found here. The short answer is that many farmers producing food on some of the UK’s most fertile soils are taking on the challenge of providing wildlife habitat as well.
Mention the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and you’ll induce an instant glazed expression on most peoples’ faces, but the fact remains that it determines how our farmland is managed - and as over 70% of the UK’s land area is farmland, it has a huge influence on our wildlife.
What has the CAP got to do with you? Well, until mid-October at least, quite a lot. The CAP is currently up for review and we have a chance to demand that it does much, MUCH more to support wildlife-friendly farming systems and the farmers that run them.
Add your voice – send an email to the EU Environment Commissioner.
It’s our countryside and the future of our farming that’s at stake. So please, Step Up for Nature and make sure our farm wildlife gets a good day at the office.
This is one of the many spectacular views across David White's farm, on the edge of the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire. David believes it is possible to farm profitably and produce food whilst still enjoying and benefitting wildlife. He is also a passionate wildlife photographer and you can see some of his beautiful images here, many of which were taken here on the farm, south of Swindon.
David is one of the four finalists in the RSPB/Daily Telegraph Nature of Farming Award and was recently interviewed by Charlie Moores on his "Talking Naturally" podcast.
If you would like to read about David and the other three finalists please go to www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote, where YOU will influence which of them wins this prestigious award.
Voting closes on Wednesday 31st August and if you vote you will be entered in a prize draw to win a luxury weekend away at a fancy hotel. What reason is there not to?
Just returned from the Birdfair this last weekend, a three day event with the aim of raising as much money for conservation projects around the world. Both Inspiring and fantastic!
Described as the birdwatcher’s Glastonbury, The British Birdwatching Fair is jointly organised by the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust and the RSPB.
Birdfair encompasses the whole spectrum of the birdwatching community whilst at the same time supporting global bird conservation. This is the event of the year if you’re into birds and wildlife.
I met up with friends that I have been birding with since childhood from around the globe that I only get to see again at this event annually. This year I also met up with a number of nature friendly farmers such as Robert Law who is a finalist in this years RSPB / Telegraph Nature of Farming Award. (Please vote now if you haven't done so already!)
Thanks to James Lees @ Swarovski on getting Robert Law some votes at this years Birdfair!
I met and had a good chat with Patrick Barker who is a birder and a nature friendly farmer and all round good-egg. Patrick and I agree on something strongly; that it is right to expect the public to get a good return on their investment to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Indeed the RSPB are lobbying for just that and many farmers like Patrick recognise that approach is good for farming in the long-term, enabling them to have the resources needed to meet the challenges that agriculture faces today and in the future, including protecting and enhance wildlife.
So it’s fair to say that when I heard the severity of the declines involved in farmland species like Turtle Dove at the Birdfair talks I wasn’t just saddened, I was really very alarmed. Patrick has Turtle Dove on his farm and is taking measures to help them, he is protecting Turtle Doves on his farm for us and future generations, I think that is a pretty good return from the public money he gets to manage farmland bird friendly habitats.
The theme for Birdfair 2011 was Birdlife Internationals Flyways campaign, at this time of year Patrick's Turtle Doves will be starting to leave and heading into North Africa to finally spend the winter in scrub and savannah of countries such as Burkina Faso by October or November.
Analysis of the main threats shows that there are two key pressures which affect nearly 80% of migratory bird species like Turtle Doves. These pressures are agriculture which can result in habitat degradation and loss, and biological resource use which includes threats such as deforestation and unsustainable hunting. So Patrick's Turtle Doves have a perilous journey ahead of them, lets hope they make it back next year.
It’s clear to Patrick, Robert, all those friends I met up with and I that the CAP will need to ensure collaboration across member states so farmers can help migratory birds to have the resources they need as they breed and migrate on broad fronts across Europe. What future does the Turtle Dove have without farmers being funded to protect them?
Harvest is in! Yesterday saw the final crop harvested here at Hope Farm with our field beans combined on a glorious Cambridgeshire evening.
The completion of harvest is a time to celebrate, especially when it has been taken in dry as this year. This means there are no additional drying costs prior to selling or storage. But it is also a time of mixed emotions as all the effort of growing the crops over the last year has ended and the fields stand bare and seemingly lifeless. It is also signifies the end of the breeding season, with the skylarks, linnets and yellowhammers no longer singing.
There is little time for soul searching though. Some of next year's crops are growing already! Our oilseed rape is sown during the wheat harvest, using a technique known as autocasting. As the wheat was harvested some weeks ago, the oilseed rape is now beginning to germinate. A little rain at just the right moment has helped.
We are also growing mustard, which has also germinated, on fields which will be planted with field beans next February. The mustard allows us to protect the bare soils from being eroded by winter rain and acts as a green fertiliser.
I mentioned lifeless, but on closer inspection the fields are far from lifeless. Coveys of partridges can be seen on the cultivated fields, flocks of goldfinches and linnets fly overhead and the hedges are full of birds.
Many of the hedgerow birds at this time of year, such as whitethroats and blackcaps, are already migrating. They are quite noisy as you approach. It is far from a lifeless farm, it is actually buzzing with life. Even though the excitement of harvest is over, the excitement of migration and winter flocks building up is only just starting.