Update from the Farmland Bird Aid Network –
Louise Spicer set up Farmland Bird Aid Network in 2003, coordinating with a number of landowners to feed declining farmland birds during the ‘hungry gap’ from January to early May. In 2022, we are now a small charity supporting a network of more than 70 volunteers and landowners on 23+ feeding sites across West Oxfordshire, with a mix of private landowners feeding on their own land, and sites where rotas of volunteers feed on a daily basis.
The number of farmland birds in the UK has declined dramatically since the 1970s, falling on average by 48% across the country, while some species such as tree sparrows and corn buntings have been reduced by 80%. Some ‘Red-listed’ species are familiar ‘farmland’ birds such as house sparrow, yellow hammer and skylarks, but many people are unaware of the challenges they face. Even species such as chaffinches started to decline in 2012. So it’s never been more important to act now and do all we can to conserve these precious specialist birds.
Eyebrook Farms are one of a growing number of farmers who are growing crops in a more nature-friendly way, to promote biodiversity and support wildlife on their farms. This includes the dramatic decrease of pesticides, whilst increasing the length and heights of hedgerows and managing them in a more bird friendly way. Through spring sowing, cover cropping and bringing more animals such as sheep into the crop rotation, these farmers are providing better habitats now then ever and seeing the impact of these changes in the increasing number and species of birds at the farm.
The Farmland Bird Aid Network works with local communities and landowners to feed farmland birds through the winter, monitor their populations, and restore habitats, enabling farmland birds to thrive naturally.
What has worked best at our Farmland Bird Aid Network sites?
We have found the methods below have been the most effective at our feeding sites:
- Choose sites next to thick hedges with lots of scrub at the base for shelter and nesting. Ideally the hedge will have a few tall trees for perch points, as many farmland birds are shy and like to perch high.
- Beside the hedge, keep the grass low or even bare soil so it’s easy for the birds to see the food, flit down and feed.
- We use a mix of oilseed rape, white millet and crushed wheat/barley, scattered daily (ideally before 9 am so they can feed as early in the day as possible), from October/November to May.
- Store the seed mix in a pest-proof bin near the feeding site.
- Feed daily by hand – early morning if possible – we have rotas with someone feeding one day a week. We trialled some automatic feeders – sadly the seed was spread too thickly and in a small area so we learnt it’s best to scatter by hand!
- Volunteers survey the site – we survey for farmland birds once a month from December to March.
- Mesh cages can stop pheasants, pigeons, etc eating the seed. Yellow hammers will feed in the cages but linnets and skylarks will not enter them.
Farmland Bird Aid Network (registered charity 1192305) exists to promote the conservation of farmland bird species, particularly those in decline, by working with local communities and land owners, through supplementary feeding, monitoring and habitat conservation.
Yellow Hammer in Oxfordshire (photo by Martin Gascoigne-Pees)
Linnet at Chipping Norton (photo by Martin Gascoigne-Pees)
To learn more about the Farmland Bird Aid Network please visit their website