To assess the breeding territories of birds on Herefordshire farmland, I have adopted the methods set out by the BTO’s Common Bird Census (CBC), which was a scheme running from 1962 to 2000. This requires quite intensive fieldwork (which is a lot to ask for from most volunteers) so was replaced by the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in 1994, which is more manageable and therefore, encourages more people to get involved. The methodology of the CBC does however provide thorough information on territory numbers and location of breeding birds year on year, which is why I used the survey method at Awnells Farm and Turnastone Court Farm.  

The survey, as a whole, consists of 10 visits spaced roughly 10 days apart between March and June inclusive (the breeding season). Upon each visit, equipped with binoculars and a blank map of the farm, I walk around the farm’s boundary hedges and internal hedges recording all birds seen or heard on a map where they are detected. Each bird species had been allocated a one or two letter code by the BTO which I use in combination with various symbols to state any relevant information or behaviour the bird may be exerting. For example, if I heard a chiffchaff singing, I would write “CC” (code for Chiffchaff) inside a circle (symbol for singing) in the location of farm where I heard it. 

Once all the visits are completed at the end of the breeding season, I create a territory map for each species recorded on the farm using the symbols to help determine the number of territories and roughly where their boundaries fall. For example, if there were 5 circled CC’s in the same location from five different visits i.e. a male chiffchaff singing in the same place week after week, it would indicate a chiffchaff breeding territory.  

Findings (2021) and a glance into 2022 so far: 

On Awnells Farm in 2021, the highest number of territories belonging to one species was the blackbird with 18 territories and an average of 16.3 separate sightings upon each visit. The species with the lowest number of territories was the ironically named ‘Common Whitethroat’ which only held a single territory with an average of 1.8 individual sightings each visit (taking into account the species arrives from mid-April onwards). Whitethroats are summer visitors from the Sahel area of North Africa where the effects of climate change pose a serious threat to their population numbers. It is therefore even more essential to make sure that there is enough good quality breeding habitat for Whitethroats here in the UK to do what we can to tackle their decline where we are able to. From the data collected so far this year, it is looking like there are three Whitethroat territories shaping up on Awnells Farm which, although still low, is an increase from last year which is positive. 

At Turnastone Court Farm, the species with the most territories in 2021 was the Wren with 30 breeding territories and an average of 19.6 individual sightings per visit. Turnastone has lots of mature standing trees in its hedges, mixed deciduous woodland, and streams which accumulatively provide good breeding habitat for Wrens. This livestock farm is partitioned up by many hedgerows which provides a substantial amount of cover disliked by most ground-nesting birds, such as Skylarks, due to it heightening the chance of predation. This is reflected by a single breeding territory held on the farm in 2021 by Skylarks. Skylarks are normally associated with upland habitat, un-grazed grassland without many hedgerows and arable fields, so these findings are not surprising. The hedges at Turnastone Court Farm provide wonderful habitat for other birds like Blackcaps, which had 10 territories, and Blue Tits, which had 24 breeding territories in 2021. From the data collected so far this year, it looks like Turnastone will have had between four and seven Redstart territories, already, an increase from the three territories in 2021. 

 By Ruth Moss, CRT Wildlife Monitor