The latest wild bird indicators have just been published by the BTO. They show that farmland birds are still seeing the biggest drops in numbers. The figures released relate to the years 1970 – 2011 and while many bird species appear to be holding their own it is the farmland birds that continue to drop in number. To try to halt the decline a new payment will be available to farmers from the New Year to pay them to feed seeds to the birds.
From 1st January 2013 there will be five new payments schemes available to farmers that they can claim against to try to offset the environmental costs of their farming methods. The new schemes will be through the taxpayer-funded Environmental Stewardship and will be available at both entry-level and higher level schemes.
The new supplementary feeding will be aimed at seed eating birds such as buntings, finches and sparrows. The new schemes will be available to farms in England. It is hoped that the supplementary feeding will help birds to get through the so-called ‘hungry gap’. This is the period between mid-winter and spring when natural foods are not readily available.
Farmers have until 15th December to include the new options in their agreements to take advantage of it in the New Year.
Mike Green, Natural England’s Arable Specialist, who has been involved in designing the new option explained: “Research shows that providing a good supply of cereal, oilseed and specialised grains from mid-winter to early spring can help birds, such as yellowhammers and tree sparrows, survive the winter and enter the spring in a healthier condition. We are working to provide better quality food sources over a longer period of time and on bigger plots, but in the short-term feeding specialised grain on farm tracks during these critical months can really make a difference.”
The scheme will require farmers to spread grain on the ground close to areas of overwintering stubble and wild bird mixes.
Evidence to support the new option has come from research carried out on the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project Farm in Leicestershire. Dr Alastair Leake, Allerton Project Director, explained: “Our research shows that for some species you can get more breeding birds in spring simply by providing extra food from late winter to early spring. This new option is a fantastic move and will help support over-winter survival of farmland birds. Farmers are already doing a great deal for wildlife and this is another important way that they can successfully help the recovery of bird numbers.”
With the shortage of wild nuts and berries this autumn because of the poor weather throughout the year the extra feed will be welcomed by the farmland birds who are increasingly heading into the gardens to find food.
However with such a sudden boost to demand for wild bird seeds from farmers, people who feed birds can probably expect to see some steep rises in the price of bird food this coming winter. It may be a good time to stock up in bulk buys.
Natural England: supplementary bird feeding.