FARMERS and landowners across the UK are right now undertaking the Big Farmland Bird Count, an annual country-wide exercise run by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust every February.

As part of this survey, a count took place last week at Whitburgh Farms hosted by owner Alastair Salvesen and gamekeeper, Graham Rankine, joined by Dave Parish and Ross MacLeod of the GWCT and Keith Cowieson of Songbird Survival.

Whitburgh Farms has put a lot of hard work into nurturing a grey partridge population, with acres of new habitat created, hundreds of feeders used in winter, and legal predator control in place. The species has benefited enormously, along with brown hares, barn owls and many species of songbirds.

Despite the snowy conditions for the count, which involved 30 minutes observation over one area of cover crop, 14 species of birds were counted, totalling 106 individuals. Highest in number were chaffinch, with a flock of 60 flitting between the crop and one of the nearby feeders, and 19 yellowhammers and a few reed buntings also.

Five grey partridge were also spotted – but it wasn’t only the grain-eaters that were drawn to the abundant food source, as one of the local sparrowhawks also put in an appearance.

Whitburgh is now one of ten sites across northern Europe taking part in the PARTRIDGE project, funded by the North Sea Region Interreg programme, which aims to show what can be achieved when the right measures are put in place by farmers on the ground and how these measures should be part of local agri-environment schemes – often the only practical means of supporting farmers in their efforts.

GWCT Scotland's head of Lowland Research Dr Dave Parish said: "Despite the weather it was a very good count, and evidence that measures being taken at Whitburgh Farms are working and working well.

"Moreover, one of the main elements at all the PARTRIDGE project demonstration sites is a new cover crop comprising many species of plant, all providing different resources at different times of the year. Whitburgh has already started introducing this crop with more planned for planting in 2018, so hopefully next year’s Big Farmland Bird Count there will be even better."