From Kevin Rylands, Farmland Conservation Advisor (South West England)
The South West Farmland Bird Initiative (SWFBI) is an exciting partnership project that was set up to specifically help reverse the decline of farmland birds across Wessex. The Initiative targets nationally important farmland bird hotspots across Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset as defined by the distribution of six of the rarer, most declining farmland birds, often called the ‘Arable Six’: Corn bunting, grey partridge, lapwing, tree sparrow, turtle dove & yellow wagtail.
By focussing on these six species, SWFBI is targeting the best arable habitats in Wessex, and the measures put in place for these species also benefit other wildlife associated with arable farmland - in particular rare arable plants like shepherd’s needle and corn marigold; mammals such as brown hare and harvest mice, and the more widespread farmland birds like skylark, linnet, reed bunting and yellowhammer.
Brown Hare. Photo by Paul Dunn, Glamorgan Heritage Coast Project
Partnership approach Across Wessex, four sister projects work together under the umbrella of the Initiative. Each is led by a different partner organisation, with a dedicated project officer giving practical advice to farmers on how they can best use Environmental Stewardship to help farmland birds and the plants and animals associated with the arable landscape. All four posts work together with the farming community to deliver measures that specifically provide the key in-field habitats that farmland birds need in order to thrive – insect rich foraging habitats, in-field nesting habitats and over-winter food - the ‘big three’.
Partnership working has been the key to the project’s success and the Initiative has funding from and works closely with Natural England, RSPB, FWAG SW, NFU, CLA, GWCT, Cotswolds Conservation Board, North Wessex Downs, Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs and Dorset AONBs, Defra, Wessex Water, agents, agronomists and most importantly the farming community. The Initiative has also developed strong working links with the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.
On the farmThe amount of habitat delivered by SWFBI speaks for itself - working with farmers and landowners the four projects have delivered over 9,000ha of key in-field farm wildlife habitat across Wessex. Since starting in October 2008, the Initiative has worked with over 350 farmers, across 140,000 ha of farmland and has advised on over 200 HLS agreements. In addition nearly 2000 people have attended SWFBI events, all keen to learn how to integrate farmland bird conservation alongside commercial farming.
The latest SWFBI newsletter can be found here and in addition to all this there was also an album... Aptly named 'Best Farmland Bird Album in the World Ever (Vol 1)!
The CD features the calls from many species of birds found on farmland, from the rare to the very common. If you would like a free copy please email firstname.lastname@example.org