North Wessex Downs

The North Wessex Downs focus area supports several key populations of stone-curlew and is a hotspot for farmland birds, including nationally important populations of many species.

 The RSPB Wessex Stone-curlew Project. Wiltshire, England. June 2008. Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus, chick hiding in vegetation, on the edge of a "Stone-curlew plot" created on farmland.


The stone-curlew project has helped reverse the decline of this species but other farmland birds have shown a dramatic decline across the UK over recent decades. In addition to the stone-curlew, ten species (corn bunting, grey partridge, lapwing, linnet, reed bunting, skylark, tree sparrow, turtle dove, yellow wagtail and yellowhammer) are of particular concern due to their populations showing the most severe declines, with six of these species also showing a marked reduction in their range.
The aim of the project is to deliver high-quality nature conservation advice to agricultural and business communities across the Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB). By maintaining and growing our contacts with landowners, we can encourage more high-nature-value farming to link and restore habitats and create greater resilience for key species such as stone-curlew.
Targeted agri-environment schemes enable farmers to provide habitat for stone-curlew and other farmland birds alongside their existing farming practices, while also benefiting a host of other farmland species, including rare arable plants, brown hares and bumblebees.


  • Provide free advice and support to farmers entering or renewing agri-environment agreements with farmland birds as the target, incorporating the 'Big Three' for farmland birds.
  • Support, advise and train partners, farm advisors and agents on farmland birds and provision of the 'Big Three' requirements for farmland birds.
  • Provide advice on the management of options for farmland birds.
  • Creation of environmental stewardship agreements.
  • To encourage good relations between the farming and conservation communities to work together towards halting the decline in farmland wildlife.
  • A stable self-sustaining population of stone-curlew across North Wessex.


  • April 2008 - start of the North Wessex Farmland Bird Project under the South West Farmland Bird Initiative (SWFBI).
  • 2010 - stone-curlew return to breed on Marlborough Downs for the first time in 34 years.
  • October 2010 - official launch of the south-east region North Wessex Farmland Bird Project.
  • April 2012 - merger of the two regional (south west and south east) North Wessex farmland bird projects to become one.
  • 2012 - Marlborough Downs becomes the first farmer-led Nature Improvement Area.
  • January 2013 - Marlborough Downs is recognised as an RSPB focus area for stone-curlew.

Planned Work

Growing our advisory work and focusing on delivery through agri-environment and other means, such as CAP Greening measures and CFE voluntary options.
We aim to ensure these will deliver for stone-curlew and other farmland birds as well as chalk grassland, nationally important arable plant populations and the area's historic environment.
We are also looking to establish a team of highly-trained and motivated volunteers to undertake nest protection and monitoring and provide face-to-face advice on plot management.


The RSPB is working with farmers and advisors to deliver stone-curlew plots, grassland management and the farmland bird package across the North Wessex Downs.
We are working towards the recovery of stone-curlew by linking breeding areas which have seen a rise in the stone-curlew population.
Farmland bird populations now appear stable, although we are awaiting follow-up surveys.
RSPB advisors have visited more than 120 farmers to deliver management advice across more than 470 square kilometres of farmed land.



Previously funded through the SWFBI programme, work on the stone-curlew in North Wessex is currently supported by the EU's LIFE+ programme. 


Date: 5 March 2013 PDF, 1.38Mb.

The Farm Flyer - North Wessex Farmland Bird Project

Newsletter for farmers, landowners, landmanagers and farm advisers across the four public areas. Date: 10 October 2012. PDF, 957Kb.

South West Farmland Bird Initiative Newsletter - Winter 2012/13

Date: 3 April 2012. PDF, 152Kb.

Chalk Country update - March 2012

News about RSPB partnership projects in Wessex. Date: 4 March 2011. PDF, 742Kb.

Chalk Country 3


Coast on a stormy day

Charlotte Bruce-White

Conservation Advisor, RSPB
Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Project status: Ongoing Project types: Advocacy Project types: Species protection