Do you have a love for nature and a fondness for birds, and can you tell a yellowhammer from a redshank and a skylark from a song thrush?

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Northern Ireland, (RSPB NI) is seeking volunteers as farmland surveyors in east Co. Down, as part of its 'Farming Together with Nature' project.

In decline

Species such as yellowhammers, skylarks and linnets have experienced widespread decline in recent years, mainly due to a loss of seed-rich habitat.

However, east Co. Down is one of the last remaining strongholds for priority seed-eating species in the country.

RSPB NI is working with farmers in the county to provide ‘the big three’ for priority seed-eating birds.

"These are a summer insect source, a winter seed source and suitable nesting habitat. If one of these requirements is lost or depleted, these birds will find it difficult to survive, especially in winter when food is in short supply," said a spokesperson.

"Luckily there are lots of simple things that farmers can do to help birds and other wildlife prosper on their land."


Volunteer surveyors, he said, are absolutely essential in helping to deliver this project. All volunteers need is knowledge of identifying common farmland birds.

Volunteering, the spokesperson said, provides an excellent opportunity to further improve bird identification skills, increase knowledge of farmland wildlife ecology, and learn more about farming.

Full training will be delivered in early March. "It is also a great way to get to see some beautiful parts of the countryside you may not have seen before," said the spokesman.

Volunteer, Ron Price, conducts the surveys every year.

The rewards are spectacular, seeing and hearing birds including yellowhammers and reed buntings first thing in the morning. The farmer I was working with was very accommodating and it was a pleasure to survey his land. I would encourage as many people as possible to get involved.

The surveys take place in the early mornings between late April and June, and volunteers are asked to visit their designated farm four times over this period.

Visits take between three and five hours, depending on the size of the farm. When complete, farmers will receive a follow-up advisory visit to see how they can help the species found on their land.

Follow-up surveys will then be undertaken on a three-year basis to monitor any changes in wildlife populations.

With increasing pressures facing farmland wildlife, it is becoming more important for farmers and landowners to do what they can to help give nature a home, said the RSPB NI spokesperson.

"Advisory support from RSPB NI can help farmers make the most of their land, both for production and wildlife," the spokesman added.

If you are an interested in becoming a volunteer farmland surveyor, contact RSPB NI volunteering development officer Colin Graham by emailing: [email protected]