What we do
Image: Nigel Blake
In 1997, a survey of yellowhammers in Northern Ireland indicated that there had been a 65% decline in numbers since 1991 (Donaghy 1998).
As a consequence, the yellowhammer is red-listed on both the Irish and UK lists of Birds of Conservation Concern (Newton et al. 1999; Gregory et al. 2002.
An estimated 5,000 pairs of yellowhammers remain in NI, and the species is now completely absent from Co. Fermanagh. A whole suite of seed-eating farmland birds including linnet, tree sparrow and skylark have followed a similar downward spiral. As a result, the RSPB set up the Yellowhammer Recovery Project in 2006 to try and reverse these critical declines in yellowhammers and other seed-eating farmland birds.
In Northern Ireland, a Species Action Plan (SAP) has been drafted by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA – then called EHS) for yellowhammers (EHS 2005). This SAP provides a framework for recovery and includes a series of actions to achieve specific targets.
To achieve the aims of the SAP, the RSPB lauched a targeted Yellowhammer Recovery Project (YRP) to help deliver many of the actions in the SAP. As statutory bodies, DARD and NIEA are listed against many of the actions in the SAP. The yellowhammer is one of many priority species for the RSPB. As we offer specialist advice, and having carried out successful recovery projects for priority bird species in other parts of the UK, we were delighted to be able to undertake the YRP partnership with our government partners.
Now that we know how well these arable options can work when targeted with advice, we want to see the project roll out further to secure better fortunes for yellowhammers and other seed eaters across NI.
Results from the CMS winter arable option scale work in winter 2005/06 showed that seed-eating farmland birds were using the CMS arable options in preference to areas of land not in CMS arable options. The results from the study of the CMS summer arable options in 2006 were less conclusive. Yellowhammers and other seed-eating farmland birds were not using the rough grass margins (RGM) or conservation cereals as expected.
Further research into the RGMs began in winter 07, when the Project Officer started monitoring the effectiveness of sward management (cutting/grazing) in opening up the swards in RGM’s increasing accessibility. Funding is still to be sought for further research into Conservation Cereals.
From the start of the project, these farmers have been encouraged by the Project Officer to take up CMS arable options. The Project officer made no advisory contact with the 22 control farmers throughout the course of the project.
In the case of the red-listed yellowhammer, populations increased by over 50% at NICMS farms. However they also went up (by 21%) at unmanaged farms (control sites), demonstrating that the well-managed NICMS farms were not just pulling in birds from other areas, but were actually benefitting the wildlife in the wider countryside as well.
A more detailed examination revealed that this increase at NICMS sites was most evident at the most newly established sites (since 2006) at which the greatest levels of management advice was provided - at these sites yellowhammers increased by a remarkable 79%.
Claire BarnettConservation Manager - Conservation Delivery (Acting)E-mail: email@example.com
NIEA – Northern Ireland Environment Agency
DARD – The Department of Agriculture & Rural Development
AFBI – Agri-Food & Business Institute
The initial baseline survey in 2006 was kindly funded by the NIEA, with AFBI providing funds for the follow-up survey 2011.