The Cotswolds Farmland Bird Project is an exciting initiative working closely with farmers to stabilize and increase the numbers of farmland birds and rare arable plants.

The project concentrates on six bird species, the ‘Arable 6’, and hotspots for arable plants. The ‘Arable 6’ are grey partridge, lapwing, turtle dove, yellow wagtail, tree sparrow and corn bunting. They are farmland specialists and have suffered the most severe declines. Providing habitat for these birds will also have major benefits for other farmland species like the skylark, yellowhammer and brown hare, and in many cases also provide conditions that will help rare arable plants.

Through the use of agri-environment schemes or independently, land managers are encouraged to adopt measures that provide nesting habitat, summer and winter food (the ‘Big 3’) for farmland birds. In ‘hot-spot’ areas for rare arable plants, the project is promoting measures such as cultivation of headlands to encourage the germination of some of the UK’s scarcest plants.

Why is arable wildlife important?

Farmland birds are a good indicator of the level of biodiversity on farms, as they are comparatively high up the food chain. If their populations are thriving it indicates the lower end of the food chain is also in good condition. Conservation of rare arable plants is important to help prevent extinction of some species from the Cotswolds and the UK. They also provide seed and insect rich habitat to support the whole food chain.

Since the 1970s the UK populations of many of our farmland birds have been in steep decline. In the South West, farmland bird numbers fell by 45% between 1970 and 1994, and a further 8% between 1994 and 2007. Populations of arable plants have declined dramatically over the past 60 years, and are now viewed as our rarest group of plants in the UK.

Research has shown that if sufficient quantities of the ‘Big 3’ are provided for farmland birds and correct management is carried out for arable plants to germinate, the trends can be reversed. These measures can work alongside existing farming practices, utilizing options available under Environmental Stewardship.
e ‘Big 3’
Farmland birds require three things in order to thrive: ‘The Big 3’. These are:

Nesting habitat:
The ideal nesting habitat varies between species, but needs to be safe and secure and may be in the middle of a field, field margins, in hedges or trees.

Summer food:
A regular supply of insects and other invertebrates are critical food sources for developing chicks and adults throughout the summer.

Winter food:
Many farmland birds rely on seeds and so an abundant source of seed food is needed throughout the winter months into spring.

Progress
Since the launch of the project in October 2008:

89 Environmental Stewardship agreements have been completed with farmers covering 31,728ha of farmland with a total of 3,848ha of arable option for farmland birds.

Options include:
Wild bird seed mixtures, skylark plots, beetle banks, fallow plots, cultivated field margins and low input cereals

For more information about the project contact Neil Harris, the Cotswolds Farmland Bird Project Officer on 01905 363455 or email neil.harris@naturalengland.org.uk.


The South West Farmland Bird Initiative

The Cotswolds Farmland Bird Project is part of a wider pioneering partnership, the South West Farmland Bird Initiative, which is seeking to deliver positive habitat management for farmland birds across Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset. These areas are all recognised as being nationally important for farmland birds and other wildlife found within the wider countryside.

Photo: corn bunting courtesy of RSPB