Downpatrick man working to halt yellowhammer decline

Downpatrick man working to halt yellowhammer decline

29 August 2018

A DOWNPATRICK farmer is helping to halt the decline of the endangered yellowhammer bird.

Jack Kelly, from Ballyalton, is one of a number of Co Down farmers whose work has helped the yellowhammer, house sparrow and tree sparrow revive in numbers.

Yellowhammers are a “red-listed” species due to concern over its sharp decline in recent years.

By leaving small parts of farmland untouched to provide winter feed crop for the birds, the number of yellowhammers have increased by 78% between 2006-2011, according to an agri-environmental (AES) study by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The study also showed that numbers of house sparrows went up by nearly a half while tree sparrows showed the biggest revival in numbers, with a three-fold increase over the five-year period.

The RSPB farmland bird study, the first of its kind to be carried out on the island of Ireland, included face-to-face advisory work with the farmers.

It showed that AES land management can improve the population status of farmland bird species.

Mr Kelly is an arable farmer who has employed a range of helpful measures on his land, including wild bird cover, overwintering stubbles, rough grass margins, pollen and nectar margins, annual wildflower margins, native hedging and a hay meadow.

He says that by taking part in the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), his farm has also enjoyed gains.

“The agri-environmental scheme has been beneficial for us, providing the opportunity to help wildlife on areas of our land which may not be as productive as other areas,” he said.

“We were able to utilise field margins or awkward corners and turn them into havens for wildlife. 

“The overwintered stubbles and wild bird cover plot provides my family and myself with a great spectacle over the winter when hundreds of birds come to feed on the seed. 

“It works well within our farming practices and we would encourage other farmers to make the most of the EFS.”

Kendrew Colhoun, RSPB’s senior conservation scientist, said that the Society sees the environment farming scheme as a critical component as part of its work.

An Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) is opening this week and RSPB NI is encouraging farmers to sign up for this scheme administered by the Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

It is open to all active farmers who have management control of at least three hectares of eligible farmland.

Sean Woods, who advised Mr Kelly and other farmers in their work, added: “The opening of the wider EFS provides the opportunity for farmers to help some of our most important species such as the yellowhammer, while receiving a financial reward. Many of our iconic farmland wildlife species rely on farmers utilising measures such as those found in the scheme. 

“We are urging as many farmers as possible to enter EFS to help nature thrive on their land and we would also like to thank the forty-plus farmers that took part in the original research project.”

Key options for farmers to consider are the provision of winter feed crop for wild birds, retention of winter stubble, creation of arable margins and creation of pollinator margins.

The Environmental Farming Scheme opened on August 20 and closed for applications on September 2. 

To apply