GWCT helping farmers to do more for wildlife

As spring approaches and birds are starting to breed it’s time to consider whether they will be able to find sufficient food for their chicks

The majority of farmland birds feed their young on invertebrates (insects and spiders) because they are a rich source of protein and fat, but the media these days is full of stories about insect declines.

There is though considerable variation between different groups of invertebrates with some increasing, some remaining stable and some declining. The measure we use is an index that is comprised of six groups of insects identified as important in chick survival. This index has shown a decrease of 50% since 1970. For this index we also have a target level which is the minimum needed to ensure sufficient chicks survive to maintain a population.

Research has shown that crops and non-crop habitats on farmland all support varying levels of invertebrates. However, it is not only their densities that are important for birds but also whether they can be caught which depends on the vegetation structure and accessibility for birds.

If provision of wild bird seed is important then kale is one of the seeds most preferred by farmland birds and second year kale can provide cover and an abundance of weeds, as can some of the other wild bird seed mixes.

Overall though “don’t put your eggs in one basket” and provide a variety of habitats to ensure at least some deliver each year and locate these near to where birds are likely to be nesting to reduce the effort they spend finding food and reduce the time nests are left unattended.

John Holland, Head of the Farmland Ecology Unit, GWCT explains in full with some helpful graphs and detailed figures on the GWCT blog here

Related content