The Volunteer and Farmer Alliance (V&FA)

Well, that’s it – I’ve completed my final farm survey for the 2012 breeding season. Farmland birds have suffered serious declines, and this is my way of doing something positive to help.

For over 10 years the RSPB has been helping to inform farmers about the wildlife on their land. RSPB volunteers make 3 or 4 early morning visits and produce a map showing where species of conservation concern have been seen and are breeding in the survey area, and, of the farmers involved, 90% put into practice the farmland bird management guidelines that accompany the map. The results can also aid and guide agri-environment applications as they show that farmers plan to manage for species that already occur on their land. Perhaps surprisingly, 80% of farmers find they have species on their farms that they have not previously noticed.

The volunteers get to enjoy some good birdwatching in areas not normally accessible, and have the satisfaction of contributing to a worthwhile conservation project.

‘My farm’ this year is in the hills above Aberfeldy, and the morning visits would see me up at 4am for the 25 mile drive south (avoiding all the deer and red squirrels on the road at that time, little other traffic) to start 5 hours of survey work. You quickly realise how important it is to be able to recognise bird song and calls, as having to see every bird to identify it would take an eternity; I rarely look through the binoculars, it is all done by ear. Most farm fields are green deserts as far as birds go, but wet areas and field boundaries provide cover, food and nest sites for many birds, mammals, and insects. I mapped a total of 45 species over the 4 visits; highlights were yellowhammer, curlew, lapwing, snipe, cuckoo, wheatear and whinchat, all birds that have disappeared from many areas. And who can fail to enjoy listening to singing skylarks? I had excellent views of hares and roe deer, ringlet, meadow brown and dark green fritillary butterflies, and wild flowers in profusion. The scent, a heady perfume really, walking through one wetland area in particular, was almost overpowering – ragged robin, bog asphodel, globe flower, sundew, common spotted, heath spotted, northern marsh and fragrant orchids. I ended up absolutely covered in pale green grass pollen, to the extent that the clothes had to go in the wash as soon as I got home. Good job I’d taken a hay-fever tablet before I left home that morning!

Why not volunteer your skills to an organisation like the RSPB or a Wildlife Trust? It is your chance to ‘make a difference’ and do something positive. If you feel you need to improve your ID skills or learn survey techniques, you will find the appropriate FSC course at one of our centres.

BTO run excellent Bird Survey Technique courses


To learn more about V&FA visit



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