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.
Louise Spicer set up Bird Aid in 2003, coordinating with a number of landowners. This West Oxfordshire-based charity has helped to feed the declining farmland birds during the ‘hungry gap’ from January to early May ever since.
Why have farmland birds declined?
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%.
‘Farming with Nature’, who promote biodiversity across Europe, found four reasons for farmland bird declines:
- Loss of insects from cropped fields due to herbicide and insecticide use – this lack of food leads to smaller broods.
- Loss of nesting habitat because hedgerows and grass banks have been removed or are cut too frequently – this leads to fewer successful breeding pairs in spring.
- Increased predation because of land change uses – this leads to higher losses, particularly nesting females.
- Poor survival during the late winter period – driven by lack of suitable winter cover and food resources. They used to feed over winter on seeds in the stubble fields before the land was ploughed in the spring. The modern practice of immediate ploughing after harvest has created a period of severe food shortage each year that has devastated local bird numbers. Added to this, hedgerows are often cut annually, which further reduces the farmland bird’s food sources and safe habitat for roosting and breeding.
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.