The small plots planted for wild birds have attracted thousands.
Bird -friendly crops help farmland birds battle the Big Freeze
December 2010. Scotland's farmland birds have been thrown a valuable
lifeline this winter thanks to continued use of seed rich wild bird cover
plots across the country.
Giant bird table
With the prolonged snow and ice, these plots have acted as giant bird
tables, providing a range of seed for birds struggling to find food. One
farm in Angus has reported tens of thousands of birds feeding on a
relatively tiny 2 ha plot of land given over to wild bird cover, an event
unprecedented in the farm's history.
For several species, such as corn buntings and yellowhammers, the lack of
winter food has been a significant factor in their population declines. With
Scotland experiencing one of its worst winters for over four decades, RSPB
Scotland believes the use of wild bird cover has never been so important.
Wild bird cover plots can be financially supported through Scotland's
agri-environment scheme, for which every farmer can apply.
Hywel Maggs, Conservation Officer with RSPB Scotland said: "It's been a
difficult few weeks for all types of wildlife, and it is fair to say that
many more farmland birds would have perished in the cold without these
Successful wildlife farms
RSPB Scotland has had a number of reports of huge concentrations of farmland
birds feeding from wild bird cover crops in various regions. They include:
. Angus - Douglas Brunton's farm near Arbroath was visited by flocks
of 5000 skylark, 2500 brambling, 105 corn bunting, 1700 yellowhammer, 700
reed bunting, 600 snow bunting, 4000 wood pigeon, 10 lapland buntings, 200
linnet, 2250 pinked footed geese and smaller numbers of other finches,
sparrows, raptors and game birds.
. Scottish Borders - A farm near Reston in Borders recently recorded
over 2500 birds, including over 900 yellowhammers, 300 trees sparrows and
300 linnets were spotted, along with numerous reed buntings, bullfinches,
goldfinches, skylarks, greenfinches and chaffinches.
. Dumfries and Galloway - RSPB Scotland's Mersehead Nature Reserve
reported record breaking numbers of species on its wild bird cover crops
during its December Farmland Bird Study including 2600 linnets, 101
yellowhammers, 229 reed buntings, 1200 skylarks and smaller numbers of
brambling, tree sparrows and chaffinches.
"These plots are sown with a mixture of seed bearing crops such as oats,
barley, kale and mustard, providing a variety of seeds for different species
over the winter months. Our thanks go to those farmers who have already
taken the time to incorporate them into their land and we hope, with the
continued support of agri-environment grants, that others will be able to
follow their example."
Research suggests that 1-2 hectares of wild bird cover in every 100 hectares
of farmland can sustain the local farmland bird population over the winter
months, and RSPB Scotland are encouraging others to consider putting plots
in for next winter.
Their value has already been highlighted on a number of farms across
Scotland. Reports suggest record breaking counts by RSPB Scotland of
farmland birds flocking to take advantage of the seed supply in wild bird
13,000 feeding birds
One farm in Angus recorded 13,000 feeding birds at the height of the bad
Owner Douglas Brunton, who introduced two hectares of the wild bird cover
earlier this year after joining an RSPB-led project to help corn bunting,
said: "The original reason for the wild bird cover was to provide a nesting
habitat and winter feed to support the corn bunting population of the area.
The winter feed has been more successful than we ever anticipated and the
counts of over 100 corn buntings seen feeding in the crop recently has been
very pleasing. The huge flocks of other birds feeding there just shows how
necessary this type of crop is when the weather is severe. It is good that
we can fit these types of crops into our arable rotation."
For more advice on wildlife -friendly farming visit