Guest blog by Jenny Atkins, Agriculture Advice Project Manager

During the last year in Cambridgeshire initially, we have been working on an inspirational scheme that trains participants to monitor a wide range of farm wildlife, provides multi-taxa surveys for farmers, introduces a greater diversity of volunteers to our work and delivers meaningful conservation outcomes yet remains cost-effective to manage. For the farmers involved, this volunteer effort will provide an opportunity to understand the wildlife on each farm and therefore how to best manage habitats accordingly.

Farmland bird surveyor. Image: Colin Wilkinson (rspb-images.com)

With external funding made accessible, work was undertaken alongside Butterfly Conservation, Buglife and Bumblebee Conservation Trust and so benefitted from the strong links to Farm Wildlife – the partnership of organisations working together to provide a single source of best-practice management advice for wildlife on farmland.

The key to the sustainability of any scheme such as this will be the ability for it to operate with volunteers managing teams involved in survey work and their association with the farming community.

Activities and achievements

So far, the project has seen us:

  • Deliver an online multiple-choice questionnaire, utilising social media networks representing a range of farmers to promote its completion.
  • Gather qualitative data of young people’s motivations, barriers and recommendations for participation in monitoring farm wildlife generated through focus group discussions. This involved 18-29 year olds that had previously volunteered in the environmental sector, in other sectors and those that had never volunteered before.
  • A number of farmland bird surveys undertaken by volunteers across Cambridgeshire in spring 2021. With more than 30 volunteers involved, this allowed us to positively engage with farmers across 25 farms. The methodologies utilised are being assessed to determine which we adopt in the future.
  • We interviewed the farmers involved in this survey work, to assess their opinions of the scheme and determine the format of their results and will do so again once they have received their results.
  • Training events operated by Butterfly Conservation and Buglife have been held in Cambridgeshire, Wiltshire and Devon to assist with the use of apps to record survey data. Further training events will be held by Bumblebee Conservation Trust to ensure a full range of pollinating insects are surveyed on farmland.
  • Volunteers have been involved throughout. Additional work by volunteers to process donated binoculars may well benefit other volunteers by eliminating barriers to inclusivity. We have an abundance of house sparrow and starling nest boxes in storage, purposefully constructed / donated to give to farmers involved. More recently a volunteer-recorded training event will allow us to deliver on-line training in future.

Bee on flower at Grange Farm, Cambridgeshire. Image: Grahame Madge (rspb-images.com)

We are very grateful for the funding made available and extend our thanks to everyone that has supported the work and donated their time as a gift to ensure we stand a chance of making a credible difference in so many aspects of our work, with an expansion into the aforementioned counties next year dependent on continued funding.

For further information please contact farmsurveys@rspb.org.uk

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