TN75 The RSPB’s Simon Tonkin and wildlife-friendly farming

headland feature

A wide-ranging podcast recorded during a day spent with Simon Tonkin, the RSPB’s Senior Farmland Conservation Officer, and farmers Michael Sly and Dick Johnson both of whom farm in the Fens. The podcast discusses how successfully farmland birds can be encouraged back to farms using the Common Agricultural Policy’s agri-environment schemes, describes how the RSPB is helping farmers, and highlights the passion many farmers have for wildlife. Edited into three sections, the first (with Michael Sly) describes the Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone and explains how a group of farmers are bringing farmland birds back to a very large area near the Nene Washes, the second (with Dick Johnson) looks at his work on a much smaller farm where he has put over 50% of his arable land into Higher Level Stewardship, and the third (recorded in late afternoon on a farm in the Brecks), summarises the importance of agri-environment schemes, details the parlous state of the Turtle Dove, and ends by explaining how we can all help farmland wildlife recover.

Disclaimer: Whilst some expenses were covered by the RSPB, neither the organisation nor Simon Tonkin had any editorial input into this podcast whatsoever, participants were not asked to provide specific quotes, and I was not asked to supply a final edit to the RSPB before uploading the podcast to Talking Naturally.

Skylarks ‘fighting’ in December. Copyright Charlie Moores

Show Notes

From RSPB’s ‘Field of View newsletter, Issue 10 Nov 2011:

Bird Friendly Zone will help farmland birds

The Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone is an ambitious landscape-scale farmland bird conservation project. It aims to manage arable farmland across a large area of Cambridgeshire for the benefit of farmland birds and other wildlife.

The initiative is centred on the village of Thorney, where wildlife-friendly farmers who manage 3,424 ha of surrounding farmland have come together. To achieve the aims of the project, the farmers will balance the optimal needs of farmland birds and other wildlife with those of their farm businesses.

Creating this zone will mean there is a large area (220 km2) of wildlife-friendly habitat that will allow the population and range of farmland birds to increase. In particular, six range-restricted farmland bird species will benefit: corn bunting, grey partridge, lapwing, tree sparrow, turtle dove, and yellow wagtail.

Land management options for farmland birds within Environmental Stewardship Schemes are being used,
resulting in 3-10% of arable land being managed for the year-round benefit of birds and other wildlife. Farmers are stepping up for nature by selecting Entry Level Scheme and HLS land management options, such as unharvested crops to feed birds over the winter, fallow and skylark plots providing in-field nesting habitat and nectar rich plots supplying insect rich areas.

The Bird Friendly Zone is part of the RSPB Fens Futurescape initiative, which is a landscape-scale approach to deliver special places for wildlife and people in a changing climate.

For more information, contact Simon Tonkin at or call 01603 697586.




Our work is driven by a passionate belief that we all have a responsibility to protect birds and the environment. Bird populations reflect the health of the planet on which our future depends.

The need for an effective bird conservation organisation has never been greater. Climate change, agricultural intensification, expansion of urban areas and transport infrastructure, and over-exploitation of our seas all pose major threats to birds.

The RSPB could not exist without its supporters and members. Whether you join us, give a donation, purchase items from us or undertake voluntary work, your support is vital to the future of birds and the places where they live.


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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores


  1. Nial Moores says:

    An especially excellent podcast: many thanks Charlie and Dr. Simon Tonkin for all the hard work involved in putting this together. Wonderful to learn of conservation like this – field by field. It reminds me a little of some of the best work being done in Japan, where a few core folks within the Japanese Association for Wild Geese Protection have been working for a couple of decades now with local scientists and farmers to manage a still small but growing umber of rice-fields in ways that can support biodiversity (esp. waterbirds – and most esp geese) , maintain or increase yields, and help farmers make money. The scheme promotes goose-friendly rice (and rice-based alcohol!), sold at a higher price as part of the national trend towards healthier eating. Additionally, it also involves local schools that are encouraged to grow their own rice at school (to understand where their food comes from) and also to visit the farms and the farmers to learn more. Had the chance to meet some of the farmers some years ago: all said they grew to love geese and swans (conducting their own monitoring with local people and schools) and that they enjoyed the chance to explain to city dwellers about farming. The RSPB and the BTO are already doing a fantastic job in the UK (and influencing and supporting conservation over a far wider area) . The Japanese example also shows that even just a few dedicated and knowledgeable people (like the exceptional Kurechi San) can really help to make a difference. Thanks again for the podcast. And if you are interested in the Japanese example, please see:

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