A song for Guy

Guy Smith, NFU environment spokesperson asked for the details of species I saw on my BBS visit.  I wonder why.

I’ll do better than that Guy, I’ll list the species seen on my visit last Saturday and compare them with those seen on my first visit to this BBS square almost exactly seven years ago (8 May 2005).  Those species whose numbers contribute to the Farmland Bird Index (which reached its lowest ever level in 2010 (2011 results awaited)) are shown in bold.


……………………………..2005       2012

Mallard                                   1              0

Pheasant                                 4              4

Lapwing                               9              0

Stock Dove                         0              2

Woodpigeon                      19           5

Tawny Owl                          1              0

Skylark                                 23           4

Yellow Wagtail                   1              0

Wren                                     6              1

Dunnock                              0              3

Robin                                    6              2

Blackbird                           10           6

Song thrush                       0              1

Lesser Whitethroat         2              2

Whitethroat                       2              3

Blackcap                              5              1

Chiffchaff                             1              2

Willow Warbler                 2              0

Blue Tit                                 4              4

Great Tit                              3              2

Jay                                         0              1

Magpie                                 1              1

Jackdaw                               2              0

Carrion Crow                      2              3

Chaffinch                             18           15

Greenfinch                         2              0

Goldfinch                            0              1

Linnet                                   1              5

Bullfinch                               1              1

Yellowhammer                 7              0

Reed Bunting                     0              1

Birds                                     83             54

Species                                 25             23


Now I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from the differences between a single visit in 2007 and a single visit in 2012 – the value of my visits to this site are that I have visited it twice each year  and, using standardised methods, counted all the birds on two visits each year.  Anecdotes, whether they are from a single BBS site or a single farm (and farmer’s perhaps clouded recollection of days gone by) are no substitute for data collected by thousands of people at randomly selected locations – so the real value of my results are that they form a tiny contribution to a much much larger well-designed whole.

Now I wonder what point Guy will want to make from these observations?  Shall we wait and see?  No, let’s guess!  Guy will say that there are lots of other species recorded on this plot that aren’t in the farmland bird index.  Yes there are – and that’s because this plot contains some woodland in it – linear woodland along the thick green lane and a few small patches of woodland dotted around the square as would be expected in many parts of southern England.  Many of you could have guessed that from the bird list anyway, I know.

Quite a few of the remaining species contribute to the woodland bird index – which is also declining overall.

I wouldn’t want to make anything of the differences between these two counts but I am somewhat shocked at the changes in farmland birds which they suggest.  I expect the second visit in a month’s time will show a less dismal picture, and I haven’t shown you all the years in between, but the overall picture emerges from thousands of similar little pixels.

Over to you, Guy.


11 Replies to “A song for Guy”

  1. Yes Mark we do have to believe what these figures when all put together show even though on their own they show strange differences,such as your Blackbirds decreasing and our local ones increasing.Think for me the alarming ones are the Lapwing and Skylark.
    Saw today when on a walk round our local fishing lakes something I have not seen before,a Carrion Crow going over the lake and grabbing something in its feet then flying to grassy patch and eating it.Just to be sure watched this 3 times and in a slightly different area each time but fishermen were scarce and down the other end of 7 acre lake.Can only think this Crow was probably catching some small fish that shoal in the lake,suspect it had to be efficient or if it got in the lake would struggle to survive.Whatever it was getting was small and could not see anything on water but as it was raining left my bins behind for just this once,doesn’t that always happen.

    1. Dennis – interesting observation. Could it have been picking insects off the surface perhaps?

  2. Bearing in mind some of the comments from environmental farmers I’m increasingly concerned about cumulative effects – especially from insecticides. I was shocked when moth numbers at the FC Alice Holt Research monitoring station declined in the middle of a 500 acre wood – and equally surprised when researching Welsh forest birds a couple of years ago by the strong performance of both Honey Buzzard and Nightjar in the very much larger upland forests – the largest insecticide free bits of landscape (I’m not going to claim its all down to the trees (mostly conifers) !)

    What is going on ? Have we created a downward spiral beyond the control of the sort of actions possible through ELS & environmentally aware farmers ? You are in a particularly interesting region because there seems to be a gap opening up for a number of species between the northern home counties and Birmingham – I’ve noted Nightjar & Nightingale in particular – the last rougher countryside squeezed out and what is left (mainly woodland) suffering from lack of management & therefore open space/srcubby young habitats ?

  3. Oh, Mark at Guy at it again over the farmland bird index. Couln’t we move on to discussing some ideas about how we could improve the situation. Your both right, farmland birds have declined and we must adress the problem but Guy you right to say that farmers have supported ELS so some credit due on both sides. Lets have a discussion about how the ELS could be improved

  4. Interesting that results show that in areas where particular things have been done to help particular birds other wildlife and plants have prospered really well.Areas such as where the Bustards,Cirl Bunting and another bird that escapes me in Wiltshire.Think Mark would explain it all much better than me but perhaps it makes a case for more of these type of areas.Of course I suspect that part of the wildlife improvement may be due to predator control.

  5. Dennis – that’s a really important point. I think conservation as a whole created a really serious failure by not picking up on it over the 2010 target – instead they kept to the same old tune – its all terrible. The figures just don’t support that – almost every species directly targeted by serious conservation measures, including farmland birds like Cirl & Great Bustard, actually did better: in galringly stark contrast to the ‘wider countryside’ where farmland and woodland birds continued to decline.

    I was fascinated to see in my latest L’Oiseau, RSPB’s French equivalent, the LPO, that exactly the same has happened in France with the one exception that species that are hunted have done worse than species that aren’t – but in general, targeted species have done better, wider countryside species worse.

    It proves conclusively it can be done !

  6. Dennis, Sorry to disappoint you but Cirl Bunting has been extinct in Wiltshire for several decades and as for the bird that has escaped you if we can find it we can try and get it back. The Bustard release is exactly that and hasn’t made any visible difference to the habitat of Salisbury Plain. There is some exceptional work in place on the Plain but it comes from Landowners, RSPB and Wilidlife Trust undertaking habitat restoration. The Wiltshire Ornithological society are doing good work in winter feeding of Tree Sparrows and as a result they are holding their own as are Corn Buntings but not through any Bustard release programme.

  7. Hi Bob,perhaps did not make it clear but a big project in Devon and Cornwall with Cirl Buntings and the one that escaped me is the big Stone Curlew project in Wilts.

  8. Bob—-have a look at RSPB farming group”Latest evidence highlights wider benefits of bird-focused agri-environment schemes”.

  9. Dennis sorry misunderstood. Yes the Stone curlew is achieved by agri-environmental work through various farmers and landowners and is doing well but the the Bustard is simply a release scheme and does not involve farmers / landowners in such agri-environment work.

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