Research Project

Long term monitoring

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Blackmoor Farm is classified as high value for farmland birds by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

This is due to its small field sizes, the large number of ancient hedgerows and numerous woods coupled with areas of marshland. All the land at the farm is in various agri-environment schemes. SongBird Survival entered a partnership with Blackmoor Farm over 20 years ago to understand the effects of environmental stewardship on breeding bird populations.

The Project

This project is unlike any others we have conducted at SongBird Survival. The aim was to analyse a block of land at Blackmoor Farm as part of a long-term SBS study. The decline of farmland birds is a major issue worldwide, and following agricultural intensification, many species have dwindled, and some even disappeared from areas of our landscape. Since 2002. SBS and Blackmoor farm have conducted yearly bird counts at this location following BTO’s Common Birds Census methodology. Every year, eight surveys are carried out weekly during April-June where hedgerows and paths on the farm are walked, and singing birds, pairs, and territories are noted and their locations plotted on maps.

Various environmental schemes are utilised at Blackmoor Farm and the following are used to try and enhance biodiversity:

  • Planting of hedgerows and maintenance of large, dense hedgerows for nesting
  • Bird feeding stations throughout the farm
  • Large bodies of water (ponds) have been erected to provide water to birds
  • Large field margins planted with wildflowers and left to grow for foraging
  • Rotational crop plans to keep the soil healthy and different crops so that there are no large areas of monoculture
  • Maintaining bordering woodland areas for nesting habitats

There needs to be a balance where providing food for our growing population doesn’t have to mean vast areas of monoculture, or farmers losing out. With a few changes, nature can be welcomed back to our rural landscapes and encouraged to thrive.

David Attenborough said: “The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water, and air. It is the most precious thing we have, and we need to defend it.”

The Results

  • We are currently analysing the last 5 years of data from Blackmoor farm and plan to update this page shortly with new results.
  • Previous results have shown that the research plot has witnessed a 30% decline in breeding territories in the period 2006-2016. 
  • This decline is in line with national statistics and reinforces the opinion of many ecologists that agri-environment schemes are not delivering on increasing farmland bird populations.
  • Our study shows that further research is needed to understand current inadequacies in habitat quality and/or quantity and identify workable solutions to enable the recovery of farmland bird populations.

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Batáry, P., Dicks, L.V., Kleijn, D., Sutherland, W.J. (2015) The role of agri-environment schemes in conservation and environmental management. Conservation Biology. 29(4):1006-1016.

Bright, J.A., Morris, A.J., Field, R.H., Cooke, A.I., Grice, P.V., Walker, L.K., Fern, J., Peach, W.J. (2015) Higher-tier agri-environment scheme enhances breeding densities of some priority farmland birds in England. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 203: 69-79.

McHugh, N.M., White, P.J.C., Moreby, S., Szczur, J., Stoate, C., Leather, S.R., Holland, J.M. (2022) Linking agri-environment scheme habitat area, predation and the abundance of chick invertebrate prey to the nesting success of a declining farmland bird. Ecological solutions and evidence. 3(2): e12155.

Staggenborg, J., Anthes, N. (2022) Long-term fallows rate best among agri-environment scheme effects on farmland birds—A meta-analysis. Conservation Letters. e12904, 

Vickery, J. A., Bradbury, R. B., Henderson, I. G., Eaton, M. A., Grice, P. V. (2004). The role of agri-environment schemes and farm management practices in reversing the decline of farmland birds in England. Biological conservation. 119(1): 19-39.

Walker, L.K., Morris, A.J., Cristinacce, A., Dadam, D., Grice, P.V., Peach, W.J. (2018) Effects of higher-tier agri-environment scheme on the abundance of priority farmland birds. Animal Conservation. 21(3): 183-192.

See our publication library for more of our research.