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Farmers, crofters and land managers encouraged to join the 2024 Big Farmland Bird Count

By John Davidson

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The blackbird is always at or near the top of the list of recorded farmland birds in Scotland. Picture: Marlies Nicolai
The blackbird is always at or near the top of the list of recorded farmland birds in Scotland. Picture: Marlies Nicolai

People living and working in rural areas including Caithness are being encouraged to join the Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) next year.

Farmers, crofters, countryside rangers, game keepers and foresters who care about wildlife conservation can take part from February 2-18, 2024.

The annual event, organised across the UK by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, provides a snapshot of the bird population on farms and crofts across the UK, as well as raising awareness of the important role that farmers and other land managers play in the conservation of farmland birds.

“Farmland birds have declined by 63 per cent since 1970 and desperately need our help,” explained Dr Louise de Raad, head of research Scotland at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

She said: “With 75 per cent of Scotland’s land area used for agriculture, and 72 per cent across the UK as a whole, the key to increasing biodiversity and reversing the decline in wildlife is held by those looking after this land. To figure out how to do this, it is important to have information from long-term initiatives such as the BFBC.”

Sponsored nationally by the NFU, the BFBC is the first UK-wide citizen science project to involve land managers in monitoring the state of farmland birds.

The count aims to raise awareness of the important role those who farm and manage the land play in the conservation of farmland birds, and to measure the impact of the conservation work that many farmers and wildlife managers carry out.

Since 2014, nearly 13,000 counts have been carried out. Next year’s will be the 11th count and GWCT would like it to be the best one yet.

Martin Kennedy, president of NFU Scotland, a partner in the BFBC project, said: “Scotland’s farmers and crofters have a fantastic story to tell on food production, lowering emissions and enhancing habitats and biodiversity. We need facts and figures to show to everyone the journey that we are on.

“Our farms and crofts are alive with nature, and our stunning birdlife in Scotland is something to be celebrated. I would encourage as many farmers and crofters as possible to participate in the 2024 count, record how many bird species you spot on farm or croft this coming February and, importantly, submit your results to GWCT.

“This long-running invaluable survey pulls together a vital national snapshot of the state of nation when it comes to our birds. I urge all farmers and crofters to take half-an-hour out of their busy schedules to enjoy and record the birdlife around them.”

NFU president Minette Batters said: “Alongside producing quality, climate-friendly food, our farmers and growers are the custodians of the great British countryside and work hard to boost biodiversity, create habitats for wildlife and provide additional feeding for farmland birds. During the 2023 count, 149 species were recorded, including 33 species from the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern.”

Teresa Dent CBE, chief executive of the GWCT, said: “You can really make a difference by taking part and helping us to understand how our farmland birds are faring.

“By spending just half an hour in one spot on your shoot or farm, counting the birds you see and submitting your results to the GWCT, the results help us build a national picture of which species are benefiting from conservation efforts, and which are most in need of help.”

Signing up for the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count is free and no specialist knowledge or equipment are required. In many places, local bird and wildlife groups are working with land managers to help them do the count.

Find out how to get involved at www.bfbc.org.uk where downloadable bird guides are also available.

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