North Wessex farmland bird project

Populations of farmland birds across the UK have shown a dramatic decline over recent decades.

Grey partridge in grass


Ten species (corn bunting, grey partridge, lapwing, yellow wagtail, turtle dove, tree sparrow, linnet, yellowhammer, reed bunting and skylark) 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 North Wessex Downs AONB is a hotspot for farmland birds, holding nationally important populations of all ten of these species.
The North Wessex Downs Farmland Bird Project provides free help and advice for farmers, their agents and advisors, to create and manage habitat for farmland birds using Environmental Stewardship.  

Farmers are encouraged to include the Farmland Bird Package of options in Stewardship agreements, providing farmland birds with their three basic ecological requirements, the ‘Big 3’:
  • Safe, in-field nesting habitat
  • Insect-rich habitat, to feed chicks in summer
  • Seed-rich habitat, for food over winter
Research has demonstrated that by providing these habitats in sufficient quantities and with the correct management, the trend in farmland bird declines can be reversed.
Environmental Stewardship enables farmers to provide habitat for farmland birds alongside their existing farming practices, whilst also benefiting a host of other farmland species.


  • Provide free advice and support to farmers in the project area entering or renewing Entry Level and Higher Level Environmental Stewardship with farmland birds as the target, incorporating the 'Big 3' for farmland birds into agreements.
  • Support, advise and train partners, farm advisors and agents on farmland birds and provision of the 'Big 3' through the Farmland Bird Package.
  • Provide advice on the management of options for farmland birds in existing Environmental Stewardship agreements, particularly HLS.
  • Encourage good relations between the farming and conservation communities in order to work together towards halting the decline in farmland bird numbers.


  • April 2008 - Start of the North Wessex Farmland Bird Project under the South West Farmland Bird Initiative (SWFBI).
  • October 2010 - Official launch of the South East region North Wessex Farmland Bird Project.
  • April 2012 - Merger of the two regional North Wessex Farmland Bird Projects (SW and SE) to become one, operating across the whole of the North Wessex Downs AONB, as part of SWFBI.

Planned Work

Advisory visits are continuing; further events and a newsletter are planned for the coming year.


More than 120 farms have been visited, resulting in over 470 square kilometres of land receiving advice on Environmental Stewardship options to provide habitat for farmland birds. This has led to new and renewed ELS and HLS agreements incorporating the Farmland Bird Package and improvements to existing agreements to further benefit farmland birds.
A newsletter has been produced and several events run for farmers and advisors across the project area, to share best practice.


The North Wessex Farmland Bird Project is a partnership project between Natural England, the North Wessex Downs AONB and the RSPB.

Natural England

Natural England is here to conserve and enhance the natural environment, for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people and the economic prosperity it brings. Natural England is the government’s advisor on the natural environment. We provide practical advice, grounded in science, on how best to safeguard England’s natural wealth for the benefit of everyone.

The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

This area covers 1,730 square kilometres and is the largest AONB in southern England. It was created in 1972 to give a protective coherence to one of the largest tracts of chalk downland in southern England which is least affected by development.


The North Wessex Farmland Bird Project is part of a wider, pioneering partnership, the South West Farmland Bird Initiative, which is working with the farming community and other partners to deliver positive habitat management for farmland birds across Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset.
These areas are nationally important for farmland birds and other wildlife found within the wider countryside, particularly for those bird species associated with arable farmland - lapwing, grey partridge, turtle dove, yellow wagtail, tree sparrow, corn bunting - and rarer arable plants like shepherd’s needle.
The initiative consists of four projects each led by a partner organisation, targeting the Cotswolds, North Wessex Downs, South Wiltshire and Dorset. Using Environmental Stewardship funding each project will deliver a combination of tailored advice, workshops and one-to-one farm visits to help farmers put the right package of management measures in place and help contribute to delivery of the Government’s objective to reverse the decline in farmland birds by 2020.
The South West Farmland Bird Initiative is funded and supported by the following:


Newsletter for farmers, landowners, landmanagers and farm advisers across the four public areas. PDF, 957Kb.

South West Farmland Bird Initiative Newsletter - Winter 2012/13

News about RSPB partnership projects in Wessex. PDF, 742Kb

Chalk Country 3


Coast on a stormy day

Charlotte Bruce-White

Conservation Advisor, RSPB
Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Farmland Species: Corn bunting Species: Grey partridge Species: Lapwing Species: Tree sparrow Species: Turtle dove Species: Yellow wagtail Project status: Ongoing Project types: Advocacy