RSPB NI Press Release
Conservation charity RSPB Northern Ireland has warned that the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), which is worth £100m to local landowners, must be approved by the Department of Finance before the NI Assembly closes for business on the 26 January 2017. If approval is not given, nature protection in NI will take a major backwards step and we will start to see once common species disappear from the landscape.
The EFS, which is the predecessor of the Northern Ireland Countryside Management Scheme (NICMS), will be a key mechanism in helping improve the sustainability of the wider countryside. The EFS is designed to encourage landowners to protect and enhance the environment on their farmland. This means landowners will be funded to put in place measures which will support threatened breeding wader species such as curlew (pictured) and lapwing, seed eating species such as yellowhammer and linnet and important habitats like peatland.
Image: Curlew chick, Glenwherry (c) Neal Warnock, RSPB
John Martin, Conservation Team Leader at RSPB NI, said “Agri-environment funding is the only source of public money that is improving the sustainability of the wider countryside. This scheme has already faced several stumbling blocks, and it’s vital it gets over this current hurdle before it is too late. The current situation is unacceptable, unsustainable and flies in the face of all the hard work many farmers have being doing in since NICMS ended.”
He added: “The EFS not only puts measures in place for species and habitats but also has the potential to benefit people and places. For example through protective measures against water pollution in high risk areas, and planting trees in the right places to help with climate change. Agri-environment has proved to be value for money across the UK and Europe in the past, and it will remain a vital part of the Common Agriculture Policy, with or without the UK.”
Actions by farmers are responsible for improved fortunes of corn buntings
Winter seed food and other management deployed on a number of farms and estates in Angus and Fife as part of Corn Bunting Recovery Project have changed the fortunes of this iconic species. The survey work earlier this year saw the highest increase in corn bunting numbers in Fife in any single year since monitoring began: between 2015 and 2016, the number of territories increased by 18%, from 62 to 73 on participating farms.
In addition, birds had also recolonised areas, where they hadn’t been seen in years. This first local range expansion in the East Neuk is very encouraging and gives hope that the species may start to spread once again.
The expansion came thanks to the collective commitment of 14 local farmers and the East Neuk Estates Group, comprising of six estates, to support the recovery of the local corn bunting population. Edward Baxter, a member of the East Neuk Estates Group, was delighted to hear the news. He said: “This year’s large increase in corn bunting numbers and the range expansion shows the positive effect of collaboration over a wider area through the involvement of large estates.”
Corn buntings in Angus can also look forward to a good 2017 as all corn buntings in that county will have access to the ‘Big Three’: safe nesting spaces, winter seed food and summer insect food for the chicks within one mile of their breeding territories from next year onwards.
Corn bunting - rspb-images.com
Neil McEwan is the latest farmer to join the Corn bunting Recovery Project in Angus. He said: “We are very happy to start working alongside the RSPB Scotland and other local farmers by filling in the last food gap for the corn bunting in Angus. These birds were in rapid decrease in the area but thanks to all the corn bunting management in the region as well as Yvonne and her team and we have seen them stabilise.”
This good news comes after decades of dramatic declines for the UK corn bunting population. In Eastern Scotland numbers fell by 83% between 1989 and 2007, earning them the unfortunate accolade of being one of the fastest declining birds in Scotland.
Farmers and land managers are using a combination of agri-environment scheme options, voluntary action and upgraded greening measures to help make the future of this iconic bird in Scotland more secure. 34 farms as well as the East Neuk Estates Group are currently involved in the Corn Bunting Recovery Project in two of the last corn bunting strongholds.
RSPB Scotland is delighted that The Links Trust as well as the Kingsbarns and Fairmont golf courses have also joined the project as new partners and hopes even more farmers, land owners and other partners will get on board in 2017 to ensure a sustainable recovery of the species.
Yvonne Stephan is a Conservation Advisor for RSPB Scotland and helps run the Corn Bunting Recovery Project. She said: “I am delighted about the positive developments for corn buntings and am constantly astounded by the enthusiasm and passion of the wonderful people that work on this project. Without their hard work and generosity in going above and beyond, corn buntings would have a bleak future. It just shows what we can achieve working together with farmers, estates and other partners and what an immense difference it can make whenever people join forces.“
The work of farmers, land managers and estates was recognised when they were nominated and then shortlisted for the Nature of Scotland Awards in the highly competitive Food & Farming category and earlier in 2016, one of the corn bunting farmers in Fife won the M&S Farming for the Future award.
Yvonne added: “The future for corn buntings in Scotland is looking better all the time, but none of it would be possible without the help and commitment of the local farmers and estates and the support of our partners and funders Kettle Produce, Marks and Spencer, Angus Environment Trust, Fife Environmental Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage. I would like to say thank you to all of them! It’s exciting times for everybody who likes corn buntings and I am looking forward to 2017, which I hope will be another really good year for those lovely birds.”
RSPB press release
Farmers in east County Down and around Lough Foyle have rallied to support RSPB NI’s new Save our Seedeaters (SoS) initiative.
Winter is a harsh time for wildlife. As the days shorten and temperatures drop, birds and other animals can find it hard to find a reliable source of food in the countryside.
In particular, seed-eating species like yellowhammers, tree sparrows, linnets and reed buntings are finding it increasingly difficult to find sufficient quantities of seed which they need to survive.
As a result, there have been widespread declines in many of our most iconic farmland birds. For example, the brightly coloured yellowhammer is now a red-listed species of conservation concern. This is extremely worrying, considering the species was common throughout much of our countryside as little as 40 years ago.
However, there are many things farmers can do to help the birds that depend on farmed land for their survival. In partnership with RSPB NI, 20 farmers in east County Down and around Lough Foyle have been creating areas for pollinators and creating safe nesting spaces through wildlife-friendly hedgerow management. Many have also sown wild bird cover – seed-rich crops that are left to stand throughout the winter and provide a valuable lifeline for farmland birds.
In the past, this kind of work has been undertaken through agri-environment schemes, whereby farmers receive payments for undertaking conservation management on their land. However, many of these agreements have run out and there won’t be a replacement scheme on the ground until at least 2017.
In spite of this, a number of farmers are doing their best to ensure that threatened species such as yellowhammer continue to have a home.
Another measure which SoS farmers are trying this year is the creation of farmland bird feeding stations. A farmland bird feeding station is an area, usually along a laneway, where cereal grain is spread regularly during the winter. This year farmers will spread around 25kg of oats, barley or wheat every week from the beginning of December to April to ensure that sufficient seed food is available for farmland birds throughout the winter.
Newtownards farmer Roy Lyttle, the 2016 NI Wildlife-Friendly Farmer of the Year Award winner, is creating a farmland bird feeding station on his land alongside a field of wild bird cover he established in spring.
He commented: “It gives me great pleasure to see species like yellowhammer and linnet using my land. I’m already seeing flocks of over 200 birds using the wild bird cover I’ve established and, along with the farmland bird feeding station, I hope to attract even more as the winter continues.”
“By continuing to sow wild bird cover or creating bird feeding stations, these farmers are providing a vital lifeline to species that will struggle otherwise. This demonstrates the vital role that farmers play in helping some of our best loved wildlife and that undertaking small actions can make a big difference. The fact that many of these farmers are doing this without reward highlights how much they want to continue to see a countryside that is rich in wildlife and the role that they can play in achieving this”.
Leona Kane from Broglasco farm in Limavady added: “We’re always delighted to work with the RSPB to help protect our local wildlife and we are looking forward to seeing the effect of the supplementary feeding project. The more that farmers like us do for the environment, the better for everyone.”