Much of the AONB is farmed and this farmland is very important for many bird species.
Populations of farmland birds have declined significantly in the past 30 years or so. Birds such as the corn bunting, once a common sight along the hedgerows of the AONB is now extinct as a breeding species in Northumberland.
The farming pattern on the Northumberland coast is still very much that of a mixed farming system. Unlike much of the UK where the polarisation of farming has seen vast areas of eastern England turn into purely arable systems. There are no wholly arable farms in the AONB.
Because farmland birds are facing such a threat, the Government funds monitoring schemes however these do not adequately cover the mixed farming system we have here.
We are also very keen to monitor the effectiveness or otherwise of agri-environment schemes.
Modern agriculture is often blamed for farmland bird decline, and there is no doubt that land drainage, advances in crop production/management, and a shift towards more winter crops have all had a negative impact on farmland bird populations over the years. However, the other side of the story is very rarely heard.
Most farmers are running their businesses the best way they can to remain competitive. This does not mean farmers do not care for wildlife. This is clearly demonstrated on the Northumberland coast where a large proportion of farmers have now signed up to agri-environment schemes, to help farmland birds and other wildlife.
We established a long-term monitoring project with Natural England support in 2015 to look at the abundance of breeding and wintering farmland species at selected farms on the Northumberland coast. With funding from ERIC NorthEast we recruited and trained ten volunteer surveyors and ten farmers willing to take part in the scheme.
Volunteers will visit their allotted farm four times per year to record breeding and wintering birds. Once we have at least five years of data we will employ a Master’s Degree student to analyse it against cropping, climate and agri-environment data.