Natural England - Farming for birds

Farming for birds

Make the most of Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) by choosing the right options to benefit farmland birds.

What can farmers do for farmland birds?

To reverse the decline of farmland birds we need to restore arable habitats that have been lost from the wider countryside. Working in partnership, and using the best research, evidence and experience to date, Natural England, the RSPB, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and FWAG have developed a package of simple measures to deliver the minimum amount of habitat needed.

The Farmland Bird Package

If farmers can provide the following three things on every 100 ha of arable farmland, then farmland birds will thrive on their farms: 

  • In-field nesting habitat is required by some farmland birds, such as skylarks and lapwings. Choose to do one of the following: 20 skylark plots in winter cereals; a 1 ha fallow plot; or 1 ha of extended overwintered stubbles. Lapwings in particular will benefit greatly from the fallow plot option.

  • Seed food during the winter and early spring can be supplied by 2 ha of wild-bird seed mixture or 5 ha of weedy over-wintered stubbles (or a combination of the two). These stubbles should not receive a pre-harvest desiccant or a post-harvest herbicide.

  • Insect-rich foraging habitats are required by the majority of farmland birds because they feed their young on insects. As most farmland birds are territorial during the breeding season, it is vital to establish and maintain a network of insect-rich habitats across the farm. Farmers should aim for 1 ha made up of one or more of the following options: unharvested or unfertilised conservation headlands; reduced-herbicide cereal crop management; undersown spring cereals; cultivated margins; or nectar flower mixtures.

Research and past experience shows that farmland bird populations can respond positively and quickly when these simple measures are put in place.

The 10 most wanted farmland birds are: Grey partridge; Lapwing; Turtle dove; Skylark; Yellow wagtail; Tree sparrow; Linnet; Yellowhammer; Reed bunting; and Corn bunting.

The options are listed in full in the leaflet Farming for birdsexternal link.

What is important in my region?

To help you select the right options we have prepared maps showing the priority areas for the Farmland Bird Package. To view these select your region from the links at the top of this page.

Where can I get more detailed guidance?

The following websites provide detailed guidance relevant to the farm wildlife options:

Why is it important to choose the right ELS options?

  • Farmland bird species are amongst England’s most threatened wildlife. Since the mid-1970s there has been a steep decline in the country’s farmland bird populations, with many species declining by over 50%. These declines have been caused by the loss of in-field nesting habitat, seed food during the winter and early spring, and insect rich foraging habitats. These are often referred to as the ‘big three’ for farmland birds.

  • Loss of the big three has resulted from: increased specialisation in either arable crops or livestock; loss of spring-sown crops and weedy stubbles; increased use of pesticides and fertilisers; intensification of grassland management; and the loss of hedges, margins and other non-farmed habitats.

  • So, farmland birds have fewer places to nest, produce fewer offspring, and survive the winter less well. Species that are associated with arable farmland have been particularly affected.

By choosing the right options, locating them in the right place and managing them effectively farmers can make a real difference for farmland birds.

What is important in my region?

Select your region to view a map of priority areas for the Farmland Bird Package

East of England

East Midlands

North East

North West

South East

South West

West Midlands

Yorkshire & Humber