Results are now available from the Birds On The Edge Island-wide Farmland Bird Monitoring scheme, managed by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust through collaboration between Durrell, the Société Jersiaise, the National Trust for Jersey and the States of Jersey Department of the Environment and carried out at five sites between 2005 and 2015 that show that Jersey’s farmland bird populations are poorer than previously thought.
Five sites (at Crabbé, Les Landes, Les Blanche Banques sand dunes, Noirmont and Les Creux) were chosen in part through their connection with the five landbirds detailed in Jersey’s biodiversity action plans published in 2006: skylark, Dartford warbler, stonechat, yellowhammer and cirl bunting. Each of the transects have been walked at two-week intervals throughout the year and types and numbers of birds at different distance bands have been recorded. The dedicated team of volunteers walked more than 1,920 miles over 10 years in order to see what is happening to our birds.
Bird monitoring provides one of the most robust and globally recognised methods for measuring changes in the state of biodiversity and the broader environment. Currently the UK Farmland Bird Indicator is one of the UK Government’s 15 sustainable development indicators.
Over the ten-year period the information collated can be used to identify trends in populations and evidence suggests that we are dealing with very much a ‘mixed bag’.
A total of 124 bird species were recorded at the five sites during the survey, April 2005 to April 2015. Some of these species were recorded very infrequently or even only once and of all those recorded, 72 species were seen in sufficient numbers to analyse trends.
Sixteen of them showed marked decreases across the five sites while a further nine have increased. The remaining species’ populations appear stable with three showing signs of a possible long-term increase and five showing signs of a possible long-term decrease. Results coincide with a 30-year survey of birds along Jersey’s north coast published by the Société Jersiaise which shows that overall bird numbers recorded here halved between 1985 and 2014².
Dr Glyn Young of Durrell, who managed the project, said “the results of these two studies show the importance of long-term monitoring projects like this one and is grateful to everyone who gave so much of their free time to help understand what is happening to our Island’s bird populations”.
Mick Dryden, Chairman of the Société Jersiaise Bird Section said “The Section has collected bird records for more than 50 years from right across Jersey. This study has clearly shown the value of intensive, systematic study from a group of keen volunteers”.
In Jersey there are many species of conservation concern, but, as this study shows, it is birds associated with farmland such as the lapwing, turtle dove, skylark, yellowhammer, stonechat, linnet and reed bunting, that are faring the worst in terms of declining rates. This follows a present trend across the UK and Europe. It has been determined that the main causes of these declines are an unusually high mortality during winter, a direct consequence of the modernization of farming techniques, abandonment of marginal land and a changing climate. In traditional agriculture, there would be sources of winter food in the form of spilt cereals, fields left in stubble and fallow grounds. In Jersey it is not known what changes in farming are having an impact on local birds, but it is believed that a combination of intensification, modern technologies and abandonment of marginal land which then reverts to bracken have contributed to the changes in the food availability and subsequent bird declines.
Birds are great indicators for overall environmental health and birds in Jersey are in decline, the island’s broader environment is a lot poorer than people assume. Jersey needs a healthy and diverse environment to prosper, so help the birds and help Jersey.
What is being done to benefit these target species which have been identified to be declining in numbers? The Birds On The Edge partnership is a joint initiative between The National Trust for Jersey, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the States of Jersey Department of the Environment, which aims to restore habitats and stop the decline of these bird species.
As an integral part of the Birds On The Edge project and in collaboration with local farmers, a total of 49 fields (with a combined area of 30.35ha or 168.6vg) were planted with winter bird crops in 2015 at 12 different sites. Three varieties of winter bird crops were planted and some barley and mustard. This initiative aims to help our birds get through the winter when food would otherwise be very scarce and be in good condition to breed in spring.
Each of the sites surveyed and the core populations of the declining birds lie within the Jersey Coastal National Park, further emphasising the importance of this initiative to Island biodiversity.
Jonny Parkes, Lands Manager of The National Trust for Jersey says “This survey clearly demonstrates that we all need to “up our game” if we are going to prevent the further loss of some of our key farmland and coastal birds. The loss of the skylark from the dunes at St Ouen would be tragic loss and we need to acknowledge that securing the future of such species will require on occasion robust measures including restricted public access, pest control and increased government investment in agri-environment schemes. The Birds On The Edge Project demonstrates what can be achieved through collaboration and we hope we can further build upon its early success to prevent further population declines”
¹ Download the full survey report here
² Read details of the north coast bird survey here