A pioneering project to survey farmland birds is now open to every farmer in the UK for the first time.

The Volunteer & Farmer Alliance (V&FA) has been organising free bird surveys for farmers for eleven years and has finally reached its aim of full UK coverage. The project, run by the RSPB, recently received extra funding from the EU Life + fund to employ new staff allowing it to fill gaps in northern Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and secure coverage in south east England.

This year’s surveying season begins this month and runs until July. The project’s army of 800 volunteers will be out early in the morning on farms across the country recording birds and mapping their territories.

“The Volunteer & Farmer Alliance has gone from strength to strength over the past eleven years and now we are finally in a position where we can offer a free bird survey to every single farmer in the UK,” said Darren Moorcroft, RSPB’s head of agricultural advice.

“Every farmer who takes part gets a map showing all the birds recorded on their land. Not only is it a great way to help farmers connect with the wildlife they provide a home for, but it is also useful information for anyone wanting to go into agri environment schemes.

“Our volunteers get a real kick out of carrying out these surveys and they always get a warm welcome wherever they go. We now have a team of 13 people organising surveys right from the wheat fields of southern England up to the crofting communities of the Orkneys and everywhere in between.”

The north of Scotland, which now has a new V&FA project officer, has never been covered by the project previously while Northern Ireland and Wales have had gaps in coverage which have now been filled. The project is also available on Orkney and Shetland for the first time. The new European money will also fund a post in the south east of England allowing the project to continue its work there.

The project is split into 11 regions and each region aims to survey between 40 and 80 farms per year. Over the past eleven years the RSPB has invested £2.5million in the scheme, more than 4,250 farms have been surveyed and volunteers have given up 77,000 hours of their time.

Last year the elusive cirl bunting – Britain’s rarest farmland bird – was recorded in Cornwall on V&FA surveys for the first time. Some other highlights for volunteers in the last 12 months include a farm in Yorkshire where an unprecedented ten territories were recorded for the threatened corn bunting and another in County Durham where the visiting volunteer witnessed the spectacular sight of a black grouse lek.

Any farmer who would like to request a free bird survey on their farm during 2011 can email volunteer&farmeralliance@rspb.org.uk, visit the website at www.rspb.org.uk/v&fa or call (01767) 680551.