The Decline in Farmland Birds

Some of our farmland birds are declining…

According to the DEFRA publication ‘Wild Bird Populations in the UK’, published in 2019, sadly there has been an alarming 56% decline of our farmland birds during this time, with the Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus), Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra), Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) and the Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur), being the worst affected.

Why has there been such a drop in our farmland birds?

Factors include:
Lack of suitable nest sites due to practices like hedgerow removal in order to make larger fields, lack of hedgerow maintenance, lack of suitable field margins
Pasture land being changed to arable land, resulting in a decrease in numbers of soil invertebrates for food
Increase in the use of insecticide and herbicide use, again having an impact on food availability for birds
The change to more intensive farming practices
Habitat loss due to construction
Bad weather
An increase in autumn sown crops rather than spring sown crops, leading to those crops having larger/taller growth in spring.  This makes it harder for some species to nest.
Lack of food from winter until early spring, which is known as the hungry gap.  This results in birds going in to their spring breeding season weak.

Schemes available for farmers

In order to help this problem, the government has a scheme known as The Countryside Stewardship Scheme, where grants are available for farmers if they manage their land in a certain way.  For more information on how we can help with providing the relevant mixtures, please see our Countryside Stewardship page HERE.

AB12 – Supplementary Winter Feeding for Farmland Birds is specifically designed to help birds over winter and “provides important food resources for farmland birds in late winter and early spring on arable and mixed farms, by supplementing crops of winter bird food with additional seed, such as cereal, oilseed and specialised grains” (source

Providing food under the above scheme, will hopefully see an increase in the affected species mentioned, by enabling them to thrive better in winter and enter the breeding season in good condition.

Yellow Hammer
Emberiza citrinella

The Yellow Hammer is a small bird measuring approximately 16cm in length from head to tail.  Males have a yellow head and breast with a brown and black back.  Females have a striped yellow head and underside.  Both have a forked tail.  It can be seen all year round in open countryside or sat singing on hedgerows.

This species is protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Turtle Dove
Streptopelia turtur

The Turtle Dove is a small, dainty bird that is 26-28cm in length.  This species spends the winter in sub Saharan Africa and the summer in the UK, which is why it is often seen April to September.  It breeds in woodlands and orchards. 

This species is protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Grey Partridge
Perdix perdix

The Grey Partridge a medium sized, ground dwelling bird that is found on farmland and grassland in England and the Scottish and Welsh lowlands.  It is 29-32cm in length and has a distinctive orange face.  This species are ground nesting and breed in open farmland and scrub close to hedges.  It’s diet consists of seed, leaves and insects.

This species is protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Vanellus vanellus

The Lapwing is a distinctive looking bird found on lowland farmland, grassland and wetland areas.   It has an impressive crest, white underside, chestnut rump and is 28-31cm in length.  Its diet consists of worms and insects.   

Sadly, since 1983, their population has fallen by 50%.  One of the reasons for this is thought to be the switch from more autumn sown crops rather than spring sown crops, resulting in the lack of suitable places to nest.

This species is protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Tree Sparrow
Passer montanus

The Tree Sparrow is found on farmland, along hedgerows and around woodland edges and is a rare sight nowadays.  It is approximately 14cm in length and has a brown head with white cheeks and neck and a distinctive black spot on its cheeks.  Its back is brown and striped.  This species feeds on a diet of seeds and insects. 

Sadly, between 1970 and 2008, the UK population of Tree Sparrow fell by 93%. 

This species is protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Corn Bunting
Emberiza calandra

The Corn Bunting is lowland farm bird that can be found all year round on open arable and mixed farmland.  It is a non-descript, stocky looking bird that is streaky brown in colour and approximately 18cm in length.  It is has a thick bill and feeds on a diet of seeds and insects.

Sadly, between 1970 and 2003, the UK population of Corn Buntings fell by 89%. 

This species is protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.