I did, kind of, tell you so…

In The Times, once a dull but reliable newspaper, a few days ago there was a headline thus ‘Farmers praised as Skylarks soar again’ (click here but you need a subscription).

The piece by Ben Webster was a write-up of the GWCT ‘survey’ of farmland birds by farmers in February.  Some farmers (37%) saw some Skylarks apparently.

Quite how a one-off survey by a self-selecting bunch of farmers shows that Skylarks are soaring is a complete mystery to me.  But let’s not blame either the GWCT or Ben Webster for that as it is customary to blame the sub-editors for loopy and misleading headlines.

The GWCT are more measured in what they say about the survey on their own website.

However, Jim Egan is quoted by the Times as saying ‘…that some wildlife groups had over-emphasised the decline in farmland birds. “A lot of environmental NGOs fund-raise on bad news. They say, ‘Look what farmers have done, isn’t it bad?’ That puts people off.” ‘

I’d love to see the reference for that!



16 Replies to “Nonsense”

    1. Richard – yes they have been flying a lot lower until GWCT and The Times took an interest in them, haven’t they?

  1. Disappointing scientific illiteracy when associated with a charity styling itself as ‘the leading scientific organisation….’. On their website (and in a twitter conversation about this article a couple of days ago) the GWCT are more moderate and sensible, so why allow such daft, divisive statements to go out in public?

    The Times editorial on the same day made a pretty accurate, informative reference to autumn sown crops and skylark plots, though of course no credit was given to the RSPB.

    1. Hi Mark – I spoke to Jim Egan about the claim in the Times that he said some wildlife groups had over-emphasised the decline in farmland birds, and he did not say this. Indeed, if you look at all of the other coverage of the BFBC, GWCT and Jim himself say exactly the opposite. I think it is fair to say both RSPB and GWCT are confident that BBS paints an accurate picture of population trends of birds in the UK.

      1. Richard – Jim and GWCT don’t seem prepared to say that in public. I asked @jimegan08 whether the quote in The Times was accurate or inaccurate on Twitter an hour ago and am still waiting for a reply.

  2. The report was covered in last Sunday’s Countryfile (still available on iPlayer I presume). It showed a farmer broadcasting seed on the ground and a good numbers of yellowhammers and finches feeding, which I suppose we should be celebrating. It then cut to Hope Farm for a very damp interview with the farm manager who bemoaned the fact that very few farmers use the highly effective skylark patches. It also included a ridiculous interview with Robin Page and his obsession with killing corvids and raptors and a new organisation he had set up to promote his ideas!

  3. Why is a Farmland Bird Count ‘nonsense’ and involving ‘a bunch of self selecting farmers’ when the RSPB Great Garden Bird Watch is something fantastic ‘to invite your local MP over for’ (your words Mark). Both are simply trying to get various groups of people involved in looking at birds. What’s wrong with that?

    1. Gordon – it isn’t. But ‘Skylarks soar again’ is nonsense and so is ‘…that some wildlife groups had over-emphasised the decline in farmland birds. “A lot of environmental NGOs fund-raise on bad news. They say, ‘Look what farmers have done, isn’t it bad?’ That puts people off.” ‘

  4. Oh Mark. you know yourself that this is a low punch!
    Media spin – no paper is above it to create tension – when all this was about GWCT replicating the non-scientific ‘citizen science’ format exactly the same as RSPB’s Great Garden Birdwatch.
    It’s to raise awareness amongst farmers that ‘it isn’t all bad’ (note the crucial word), there is hope – alongside Hope Farm.

    Come on – we are all for nature (though farmers have to feed us as well), not just partisan posturing
    Oh and that goes for GWCT as well!

    1. Rob – no it’s not a low punch. As you know, because you are on Twitter, GWCT and Jim Egan have had the opportunity to correct the record and have not. More on this tomorrow.

  5. Cannot understand the obsession with ridiculing the GWCT doing their own survey and ridiculing the results,we all know how papers pick bits out and report nonsense.In my opinion the GWCTs own site gives a fair outlook on the results.
    There is a good chance that farmers will take more notice of GWCT and do things for birds than being put off by the way many conservationists and organisations constantly criticise them.
    Oh yes they do and what good as it done,not one bit of good evidenced by a simple thing like Skylark patches not being taken up and reproduced in any numbers in farmers fields.
    Not everything good is only done by those organisations that are favoured by conservationists.
    It sounds almost a crime that the GWCT did a bird count,at least the farmers recognised different species of birds something that must have really surprised those critics who rubbish farmers for not recognising species of birds.

    1. Dennis – it is the remarks about wildlife groups that I find most non-sensical. More on this tomorrow.

  6. I saw the Countryfile programme, read the Times and came to similar conclusions as Mark, Richard Ebbs summarised the media take on the publicity pretty well. What I liked most was Robin Page’s wonderful concept that you could ‘move unwanted predators on’! On where???? And the lovely farmer throwing out bird seed was a great PR stunt, oh that all the farmers did this. But the serious point about the survey surely is that the devil is in the detail – not really many farmers took part, what sort of farms were they from, and how good are their ID skills?
    What worries me is that this sort of stuff reinforces a shifted baseline – if you only had 10 Skylarks then finding 30 would seem like a real improvement but actually its a pathetic effort – we should be counting ‘common’ birds in their thousands, not 10’s or even hundreds. At this low level their populations are not sustainable.
    At the end of the Countryfile interview the GWCT guy admitted that many of the farms in environmental schemes chose the options that were easiest for them and these were not always the best for the environment. So we are paying farmers for management which we know will not deliver. More money wasted.

  7. Stella ,really surprised you rubbish the farmer throwing out the seed,surely he was doing good,just what we all want farmers to do.What a good example as he must do it all the time as the birds were obviously used to it,think he saw a wonderful 1,300 birds in half a hour.
    Of course farmers are no different to anyone else they take the easy option if it is on offer,you tell me of anyone in other occupations who don’t.
    We need to get the schemes giving rewards for what works such as small acreages of wild bird seed.
    Mark,I think that the decline in farmland birds is a fact for sure but it suits some organisations to kick certain groups and keep kicking them to get more subs.
    You never hear them criticise vehicle pollution and cats,do you think it just might be because it would lose them subs?.Well I know what I think.
    I think this bird count by GWCT while obviously biased will only do good especially if more farmers get interested in birds because of it.

    1. You misunderstood me Dennis – I said the farmer was lovely and I wished all farmers did this. This was not sarcasm or a joke. But it was a good PR stunt – unfortunately a majority of the non farming community who watch Countryfile will not realise that this farmer is pretty unusual. The clip was sufficiently vague in facts to make it clear that feeding birds on this scale was not normal farming practice.
      And yes, most people will take the easy option in life – but this doesn’t make it right.

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