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The decline of farmland birds

14 Feb 2015 by Meg Walters

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BBC Countryfile needs to visit Sheepdrove!The rare Corn Bunting at Sheepdrove

On Sunday 8th February; presenter Ellie Harrison’s report on BBC's Countryfile about farmland birds caught our attention.
Although Ellie is perfectly correct in saying that Farmland birds have suffered a precipitous decline, there’s more to the story than that.

Here, on our mixed organic farm, these species aren’t just surviving, they are thriving.

We have Corn Buntings in flocks in their hundreds, multiple pairs of breeding Lapwings, Fieldfares, Yellowhammers, Barn Owls, Red Kites, Linnets and coveys of Grey Partridge.

Not just a happy accident.Barn Owl's require rough grassy areas, which we provide here.

We plant wildflowers and flowering grasses into our pastures, leave areas of rough grazing, rely mostly on spring cultivations, improve hedgerows and above all else, do not use a drop of chemical anywhere on the farm.
So surely industrial farming methods, winter cultivations, pesticide use and a lack of wild spaces must all share the blame for these population collapses?

Yet not once did Countryfile mention organic farming practices.

Stating the obvious

The programme did talk about how to improve the lot of farmland birds. Most of the suggestions are second nature to organic farmers; improving farms as habitats, leaving headlands, planting mixes of grasses and ‘weeds’, leaving areas fallow after harvest,  but not a word about the ground breaking and valuable work carried out by organic farmers  throughout Great Britain.

There is a (long-held) perception, that the BBC in general and Countryfile in particular frequently disregards and even “knocks” organic farming. In doing so they are doing viewers a disservice by not showing the full picture.
Another example of no ‘joined up thinking’ is Tom Heap’s current obsession with GM.

The future is bright, if it's organic.

Relentlessly promoted as a future- facing industry, this technology has the potential to put the nail in the coffin for farmland birds.
Because the only two commercially available GM crops are insecticide producing and/or herbicide resistant, the future is not bright for our wildlife. Indeed, the Government’s own field scale evaluations on GM crops found that they had a negative impact on bird and insect life on the farms on which they were trialled.

Mr Heap, Countryfile and the prejudiced reporters on Radio 4’s Farming Today and Today programmes need to broaden their approach in reporting on farming subjects and give a more rounded overview.

We be happy to help them and would welcome a visit from any of them to show our methods in action.
At the very least they would get to see some of the birds they can’t see on conventional farms, and they might come to see that organic farming works and begin to report it.

Author: Meg Walters

How to find us

For directions using Sat Nav or Google Maps always enter 'Sheepdrove Road, Lambourn' and then follow the signs to Sheepdrove Organic Farm and/or Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre. DO NOT USE THE FARM ADDRESS POSTCODE AS THIS WILL NOT DIRECT YOU THE CORRECT WAY   The best option is to click here for driving directions from the East, West via M4 (via junction 14) or from the North via A34.

Sheepdrove Organic Farm, Sheepdrove Road, Lambourn, Berkshire, RG17 7UU, United Kingdom