Farmland Bird Conservation
Farmland birds indicate the quality of the agricultural environment as they sit near the top of the food chain. Population trends have been well monitored and in recent years they’ve declined significantly, with an average 48% decline since 1970 across the 19 farmland bird indicator species. Research has shown that there is no single reason for losses of these much-loved birds, however changes in agricultural practises and land management seem to have had the greatest impact, leading to reduced food availability and loss of habitat diversity. On the Earth Trust Farm we have focused on the needs of species such as yellowhammer (which has declined by 54%), skylark (51%) and grey partridge (a staggering 87%).
What we are doing
Feeding the birds
On the Earth Trust Farm we have chosen to leave approximately 10 hectares of our fields uncultivated over the winter, rather that following the arable farming trend of sowing crops in autumn straight after the previous crop has been removed. By doing this there is spilt grain and broad-leaved weed seeds to feed birds such as corn buntings and yellowhammers helping them survive the winter months. Over the winter we also distribute 33kg of seed three times a week – that’s two tonnes of extra food each year. This is particularly important during ‘the hungry gap’ when food is in short supply.
Providing diverse habitat
The Earth Trust Farm is a mixed farm of 500 hectares, a third of which is arable and a third grassland. By achieving this balance of land use, together with many metres of hedge in between the fields, we provide much needed habitat diversity for wildlife, offering food, shelter and space to breed and raise young.
A walk on the Earth Trust Farm is often accompanied by the beautiful sound of a skylark singing. Skylarks, like other birds, require a diversity of habitats to raise their young, nurturing up to two or three broods each year.
Crops can be tall and dense, preventing skylarks raising more than one early brood. We create around 40 ‘skylark plots’ every year. These 4m x 4m areas are used as a landing strip, enabling the birds to access the crops, forage and raise healthier young in greater numbers, thereby sustaining a healthy population.
All this is possible because we have Higher Level Stewardship funding – this is recognition that our farm is an important site for biodiversity and has enabled us to put in place these conservation measures.
Our annual farm-wide breeding bird survey has recorded over 40 different species, including 21 species identified as being of conservation concern.
By farming this way we are exploring and demonstrating more sustainable models for farmed food production, whilst still protecting wildlife.