Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) Handbook 2013 (NE349)

Section 2 - Environmental objectives

2.1 Managing arable habitats for farmland birds

Why your farm is important

Farmers across England are taking action to help turn round the fortunes of farmland birds by providing critical nesting and foraging habitats on their land. The birds on your farm are a good indicator of the overall health of biodiversity, as they sit high up the food chain. If bird populations are doing well then it indicates that the plants and insects on which they depend for food are thriving too.

Since the mid-1970s, there has been a steep decline in the country's farmland bird populations, with many species declining by over 50 per cent. Studies have shown that these declines have been caused by the loss of breeding and year-round foraging habitats, meaning that our farmland birds have fewer places to nest, raise fewer young and are less able to survive the winter.

ELS can be used to put in place simple management measures that will make a huge difference to farmland birds. Research and past experience of agri-environment schemes shows that farmland bird populations can respond positively and quickly when certain habitats are provided. These measures can work alongside existing farm practices and fit with the needs of your farming business.


Priority areas for farmland birds


This map shows the priority areas within England for farmland birds. It is intended to help you establish whether the Farmland Bird Package (explained on the next page) is suitable for your farm.

If your farm is located in a high-priority or medium priority area, by incorporating the Farmland Bird Package, you will be taking positive steps to help farmland birds thrive on your farm.

More detailed regional maps are available on the Natural England website at: www.naturalengland.org.uk/es.





What you can do for farmland birds: the Farmland Bird Package

By adopting the Farmland Bird Package, you will provide the three main things needed by farmland birds to survive and thrive: (1) overwinter seed food, (2) nesting habitat and (3) food for chicks.


The 10 most wanted farmland birds: There are 10 species of birds associated with arable farmland which have declined greatly in recent decades and will benefit the most from these measures. These are:

Grey partridge

© Shutterstock

© Natural England/ Julian Dowse
Turtle dove

© Natural England/ P N Watts

© Natural England/ P N Watts
Yellow wagtail

© Natural England/ Julian Dowse
Tree sparrow

© Natural England/ Peter Roworth

© Shutterstock

© Natural England/ P N Watts
Reed bunting

© Natural England/ Michael Hammett
Corn bunting

© Natural England/ P N Watts


To achieve results, for every 100 ha of arable farmland, you should aim to do at least one of the following things from each of the categories below. The stubble options may be beneficial for both food and nesting.

In-field nesting habitat: Some birds, eg skylarks and lapwings, require in-field nesting habitat. Lapwings, in particular, will benefit greatly from fallow plots.

Choose either 20 skylark plots in winter cereals, 1 ha fallow plot or 1 ha of extended overwintered stubbles.

Code Option description
EF8 Skylark plots
EF13 Uncropped cultivated areas for ground-nesting birds on arable land
EF22 Extended overwintered stubble


Overwinter seed food: Seed food during winter and early spring can be supplied by a wild bird seed mixture or weedy overwintered stubbles or ryegrass seed-set. Stubbles should not receive a pre-harvest desiccant or post-harvest herbicide.

Include either 2 ha of wild bird seed mixture, 5-10 ha of weedy overwintered stubble/ryegrass seed-set, or a combination of the two (eg 1 ha of wild bird seed mix and 2.5 ha of stubble).

Note: EF23 can only be selected when an agreement contains either EF2 (minimum 2 ha per 100 ha) or EF22 (minimum 5 ha per 100 ha). A minimum of 1 tonne supplementary feed mixture should be used per 1 ha wild bird seed mix or 5 ha stubbles in the agreement.

Code Option description
EF2 Wild bird seed mixture
EF6 Overwintered stubble
EF23 Supplementary feeding in winter for farmland birds
EG4 Cereals for whole-crop silage followed by overwintered stubble
EK20 Ryegrass seed-set as winter/spring food for birds


Insect-rich foraging habitats: Most farmland birds feed their young on insects and other invertebrates so require insect-rich foraging habitats for successful breeding. As most are territorial during the breeding season, it is vital to maintain a network of these insect-rich habitats across the farm.

Aim for 1 ha of one or more of the options below.

Code Option description
EF4 Nectar flower mixture
EF9 Cereal headlands for birds
EF10 Unharvested cereal headlands for birds and rare arable plants
EF11 Uncropped cultivated margins for rare plants
EF15 Reduced-herbicide cereal crops followed by overwintered stubble
EG1 Undersown spring cereals
EK21 Legume- and herb-rich swards
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