The thirteenth annual RSPB Volunteer and Farmer Alliance survey has shown an overall success story for farmland conservation in South-East England.
A record 121 volunteers surveyed 6,924 ha of farmland across 92 different sites, bringing the total surveyed across the region to an amazing 51,690 ha of farmland since 2000. The free surveys help farmers to identify birds of conservation concern present on their land; the RSPB then advises them on how to help these species and make the most of their farms for wildlife.
Kate Faulkner, whose farm in Alton, Hampshire, was surveyed this summer, said: “The survey was very useful. We are in the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) and were aware that we have breeding populations of Yellowhammer and Northern Lapwing, among other species. The survey indicated larger populations of birds when compared to the 2008 survey that was carried out. This suggests that the hedgerow management options and planting of wild bird mix plots that we have been undertaking is benefiting the birds on our farm.”
In the South-East, over 50 per cent of the landscape is farmland, which is of fundamental importance in providing feeding and breeding habitat for birds and other wildlife. Indeed, many species such as Northern Lapwing, Skylark and Yellowhammer, have now adapted to live on it. Unfortunately, however, many farmland birds have declined significantly over the last 40 years and are now of major conservation concern. This is largely the result of changes in British farming practice during the post-war era, when food production has been of key importance.
Farming policies encouraged this, often at the expense of wildlife. These dictated how farmers ran their businesses and managed their land, and failed to fully reward the vital conservation role they have in managing the land on which many species rely. In more recent years many farmers have worked to encourage and conserve wildlife on their land, often at their own expense, and many wildlife-friendly farmers go to considerable lengths to integrate conservation measures into their farms. In Britain, approximately 75 per cent of farmers are now in a wildlife stewardship scheme.