Primary school pupils are hit on the small screen

Primary school pupils are hit on the small screen

10 October 2018

THE hugely popular BBC Countryfile series last weekend featured a segment on the success of a farmland project spearheaded by the RSPB NI in the Down area over the past number of years.

With the help of local farmers, a scheme to improve farmland for birds has resulted in an increase in yellowhammers, house sparrows and tree sparrows.

A BBC film crew spent two days in the area last month accompanied by Countryfile’s Adam Henson with the segment screened last Sunday evening as part of the programme’s autumn special.

The segment concentrated on the work of the RSPB NI and the wildlife-friendly measures it encourages on farmland to benefit farmland birds, including yellowhammers which have been in decline in Northern Ireland.

Through the so-called environmental farming scheme, farmers are encouraged to sign up for a project that compensates landowners for undertaking work to enhance biodiversity and water quality.

Administered by the Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs the scheme is open to all active farmers who have management control of at least three hectares of eligible farmland. The scheme’s key options include the provision of winter feed crop for wild birds and retention of winter stubble.

The RSPB is keen that other farmers and landowners get involved in the scheme to help the numbers of farmland birds continue to increase.

Last Sunday’s RSPB programme featured Annadorn farmer Cecil Nelson, Clough’s Cumran Primary School and RSPB NI’s conservation team leader, Claire Barnett.

Cecil explained he has been working for the past 12 years on yellowhammer recovery with the RSPB.

“I have been putting in wild bird cover for seed-eating birds, retaining the winter stubble and establishing wild grass margins round the field edges on the farm,” he said. “Before getting involved I wouldn’t have been aware of what birds were on the farm. It was only afterwards that I started to notice and take interest in conserving the birds.

“Claire Barnett from RSPB NI first came to the farm in 2006 and asked if I was interested in getting involved. I was hesitant, but got involved because of her enthusiastic approach and passion for the birds. That really brought it to my attention and I was happy to do something for the environment,” he explained.

“The big plus for me is that the farm was surveyed at the start of the scheme and five years later, the numbers of yellowhammers had doubled. That meant that I knew I was making a difference and it gave me the appetite to continue on.”

Cecil added: “My advice to others would be to give it a go. It gives an appreciation of what is happening in the rest of the environment.”

Claire explained that the agri-environment schemes gave farmers the chance to help some of the most important species, such as the yellowhammer. 

“Many of our iconic farmland wildlife species rely on farmers utilising the scheme’s measures to help nature thrive on their land,” she said.

“Cecil’s farm is a brilliant example of what a wildlife-friendly farm looks like and we are delighted to have seen yellowhammer numbers increase on his land.

“I was also delighted to see Cumran Primary School featured on Countryfile too. I have been down at the school many times over the years and remember the first year the giant bird table went in and actually seeing a yellowhammer singing in the tree at the corner of it.”

Claire added: “It shows how committed the staff are there to giving nature a home and we are delighted to see the pupils getting so involved and to see how taken they are with yellowhammers in particular.”

Cumran teacher Ailsa Brown said it was such an honour to be part of last weekend’s episode of Countryfile.

She added: “I’d like to say thanks to Claire, RSPB NI and Cecil for inspiring us to embrace the yellowhammer project. Eleven years of dedication have paid off for the yellowhammers.”