Farmers taking part in a Northern Irish agri-environment scheme helped to boost yellowhammer numbers by 78 per cent between 2006 and 2011, according to a new RSBP study.
The increase in the yellowhammer population – a red-listed species of high conservation concern – was described as ‘impressive’ by the RSPB.
The charity’s research also found house sparrow and tree sparrow numbers grew by 46 per cent and 207 per cent respectively on farms taking part in the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) across east County Down.
RSPB Northern Ireland is now encouraging farmers to sign up for the scheme, which compensates landowners for providing winter feed crop for wild birds, retaining winter stubble, creating arable margins and establishing pollinator margins.
Kendrew Colhoun, senior conservation scientist at the RSPB, said: “We see the EFS as a critical component as part of our work to maintain biodiversity across the countryside in Northern Ireland.
“Our study provides unequivocal evidence that agri-environment schemes can deliver for key species if the correct mix of EFS options – such as ones to provide summer and winter food and nesting habitat – are targeted to the right places and coupled with advice.”
The study was the first of its kind to be carried out on the island of Ireland and included face-to-face advisory work.
Farmer Jack Kelly, from just outside Downpatrick, has employed a range of options on his land including wild bird cover, overwintering stubbles, rough grass margins and native hedging.
He said: “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.
“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 me with a great spectacle over the winter when hundreds of birds come to feed on the seed.”