A RECORD number of farmers have taken part in a national survey to collect data about birds in the countryside.

The latest Big Farmland Bird Count recorded 121 species, with more than 1,000 farmers participating in the survey organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The project between February 9 and 18 covered farmland over 950,000 acres.

A total of 25 red-listed species were recorded, with five appearing in the 25 most commonly seen species list. These include fieldfares, starlings, house sparrows, song thrushes and yellowhammers. The most plentiful were fieldfares and starlings, which were seen on nearly 40 per cent of the farms taking part.

The five most abundant birds spotted were starlings, woodpigeons, fieldfares, rooks and chaffinches. A total of 99,712 were found, making up nearly 50 per cent of the total number of birds recorded – a pattern similar in previous counts.

Jim Egan, count organiser, said: “To have more than 1,000 farmers take part this year, and 2,500 different farmers involved since the count began in 2014, is fantastic.

“We can also see from the data collated that 50 per cent of farmers have been helping farmland birds in the recent cold snap. This is critical in getting farmland birds, particularly those on the red list, through the winter so they are fit and healthy to breed in the spring. Our research at the Allerton Project clearly demonstrates the benefits of winter feeding.”

He said many farmers would now be providing insect-rich habitat to help breeding birds through the spring and summer months.

Mike Green, environmental and stewardship manager at BASF, the main BFBC sponsor, said: “This year’s data confirms, again, that a wide variety of bird species, including some red-listers, are using the full range of habitats available on farm, and great to see some of those that use gardens being recorded on farms too.”

Farmers from every county in England took part and there were also responses from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as 32 farmers from Austria.

Minette Batters, NFU president, said: “The event highlights how farmers balance food production and the excellent conservation work being undertaken on farms across the country.

“Over the past four decades, farmers have carried out a huge amount of work to encourage wildlife and are responsible for protecting, maintaining and enhancing 70 per cent of the nation’s iconic countryside.”

Mark Tufnell, CLA vice-president, said: “It is really encouraging that a record number of people took part in this year’s count, with more than half being in some form of agri-environment scheme.

“This demonstrates farmers’ ongoing commitment to the environment and shows their interest in farmland birds.

“I was very pleased to hear of the sheer variety of birds seen, including a total of 25 red list species.”

The survey areas included important environmental features such as hedges, woodland ponds, grass margins, ditches and trees. Most survey sites were next to winter cereals, grassland or overwintered stubbles.