Helping our farmland birds to return and thrive


Birds living and breeding on the UK’s farmland saw numbers decline by almost a tenth in just five years, says Dorset Wildlife Trust.
Farmland bird populations have declined by 56% since 1970, largely due to agricultural changes including the loss of mixed farming, a switch to autumn sowing of crops, a reduction in hay meadows and the stripping out of hedgerows.
Image © corn bunting by Luke Massey 2020VISION

From chattering flocks of linnets, buntings and finches, yellowhammers singing from thick bushy hedges and skylarks hovering above fields, farmland has traditionally provided key habitats for some of our most
beautiful and melodic native farmland birds. However, changes in farming practices have led to the loss of many such habitats. According to the bird indicators produced jointly by the British Trust for Ornithology and the RSPB for Defra, breeding farmland birds declined by more than half between 1970 and 2019.
Dorset Wildlife Trust works with landowners across the county to provide guidance and advice on managing their land with wildlife in mind. From unplanted patches for skylarks to nest, to designating grassy margins
for ground-nesting birds such as corn bunting, birds can be encouraged to return and thrive. Making space for nature and in particular, these traditional birds has never been more important.

What to look out for in Dorset:

The yellowhammer is a sparrow-sized, bright yellow bird that feeds on seeds and invertebrates. They are often seen perched on top of bushes singing their ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’ song. Whilst the numbers of this bright yellow bird have declined in recent years, surveys have identified yellowhammer
at our recently acquired Wild Woodbury rewilding project at Bere Regis. By changing the way the land is
managed, we hope to build the numbers of this red list species.

The yellowhammer has declined in number in recent years. Spot this bright yellow bird singing from the top of a bush or fence, or in a mixed-species flock in winter.

The song of the skylark has been the subject of many great musical and literary works. They are easy to spot rising almost vertically from farmland and grasslands singing and hovering effortlessly at a great height
before parachuting back down to earth. Despite their aerial activities, skylarks nest on the ground laying three to four eggs. Fontmell Down is a great place to spot the skylark, a streaky brown bird, with a crest.

Corn bunting
A streaky brown, thick-billed bird which is similar to the skylark but with a thicker bill and no crest. Male corn buntings are often seen perched on top of bushes singing loudly – a song that sounds just like a jangling set of keys. The corn bunting often joins mixed flocks of buntings, finches and sparrows feeding on seeds on farmland in the winter.

To find information on birds, visit the Dorset Wildlife Trust website at


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