Birds at fat balls feeder S Tonkin

Blue tits at a fat ball feeder. Image credit: S Tonkin/CG

Supplementary feeding of the birds in your garden helps them to survive periods of natural food shortage and severe winter weather, and gives them a better chance of being in peak condition for breeding. It is also a very pleasurable pastime to watch a variety of species at close quarters.

It may take a while for the number of birds visiting your feeders to build up because when the weather is mild they can take advantage of the naturally occurring seeds, berries and insects. But when these start running out and when the weather turns colder your feeders will become an important source of food.

When should I feed the birds?

Once you start feeding the birds in your garden it’s a good idea to continue to do so all year round. Just adjust the amounts and type of feed according to the time of year and the weather. Fat balls can go off in warm weather and should be discarded if they look past their best.

It’s important to keep those garden bird feeders stocked up over the winter months and into the spring but over the summer, autumn and early winter when there is usually an abundance of food in the garden, parks and countryside you may not need to put out as much food.

How should I feed the birds?

Moorhen on Feeder - S Abbott - garden birds

An unusual site on a bird feeder – a moorhen! Image credit: S Abbott

Different bird species feed in different ways. Blackbirds and robins prefer to feed off the ground but will also feed from bird tables. Finches, sparrows and tits will happily feed from hanging feeders and mesh feeders. Having said that, birds will adapt if they really need the food. We have seen a moorhen balancing on our hanging feeder at our office!

You will attract a greater number of species if you have a mixture of feeders. A good all round feeding station would be a bird table with feeder seed feeders and fat balls hanging off it. Ground feeding tables are available but you need to beware of predators such as cats. Some ground feeding tables come with a cage that allows small birds through but deter predators and larger birds like pigeons. Pigeons will clear the food in no time!

Hygiene is important. Clean your bird feeders regularly with a mild disinfectant, then rinse well and allow to dry before refilling with seeds. This will reduce disease transmission between your feathered visitors.

What should I feed the birds?

As with feeder types, a variety of different foods will attract a greater number of species.

  • Seed mixes feed a variety of species. According to experts at the RSPB, the best seed mixes contain plenty of flaked maize, sunflower seeds and peanut granules. The flaked maize is popular with blackbirds, while smaller birds enjoy small seeds such as millet and pin head oatmeal. Tits and greenfinches like sunflower seeds and peanuts.
  • Nyjer seeds are high in oil and loved by gold finches and siskins. They are very small seeds and require a special type of feeder with small holes.
  • Peanuts are rich in fat and are popular with house sparrows, great spotted woodpeckers, greenfinches, siskins and nuthatches. Don’t use slated or dry roasted peanuts and buy from a reputable source to ensure that they are low in aflatoxin, a natural toxin that can kill birds.
  • Black sunflower seeds are higher in oil content than the striped sunflower seeds are an be more popular with the birds than peanuts.
  • Fat balls and suet cakes make good winter food and are popular with a wide range of species, particularly starlings and house sparrows. If you buy them in a plastic mesh, remove the mesh and place in a special fat ball feeder or on your bird table. Small birds can get their feet trapped in the plastic mesh. You can make your own fat balls and cakes. At the bottom of this page is a recipe from the RSPB.

Why choose Fair to Nature bird food?

Fair to Nature tractor logo

Look for the logo on pack and in catalogues.

Fair to Nature accredited bird food benefits not only the birds in your garden but also birds in the countryside and farmland because Fair to Nature farmers grow special seed bearing crops to feed the farmland birds. The habitats on these farms provide food not only during the lean late winter and early spring period, but all year round. The wildflower habitats that they also grow provides birds with seeds and insects during the spring and summer months. This means that even migrant birds like the increasingly rare turtle dove benefit. You can read more about how our Fair to Nature farmers help wildlife by reading this article from the RSPB’s magazine Nature’s Home.

Wild bird food crop on a Fair to Nature Farm

Wild bird food habitat on a Fair to Nature Farm.

Fair to Nature bird food allows you to care about far more birds (and other wildlife) than just those that visit your garden, so it’s a great choice for all nature lovers. The majority of seeds and grains in the RSPB’s bird food range are sourced from Fair to Nature farms, as are the Ultiva range from GardenBird and the Honeyfield’s range from Marriage’s. You can find out more about these brands and where you can purchase them from the Conservation Grade website: 

www.conservationgrade.org/brands/

Fair to Nature farmers also provide supplementary food wild birds by spreading seed mixes along farm tracks.

Making your own bird food cake

You will need:

  • Suet or lard – melted (take care with hot fat!)
  • Mixture of seeds, nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, cheese and cake
  • Container, e.g. plastic cup or empty half of a coconut shell, or fir cones

Place the seed/nuts/fruit/oatmeal/cheese/cake mixture in a bowl and pour over the melted fat. Stir well and allow it to set in the container of your choice. If using fir cones, either dip the cones into the mixture when it has cooled down (so that you don’t burn yourself!) or smear the mixture onto the cones using your fingers – a nice messy job for children to get stuck into. You can then tie some string around the cone, and the other containers and hang them in the trees or off your bird table. Alternatively you can just turn it out on your bird table when solid.

Once you’ve encouraged the birds to visit your garden, don’t forget to take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place at the end of January each year. You can register for a Big Garden Birdwatch pack – https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/packrequest/.

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Fair to Nature farmers don’t just do great things for biodiversity on their land. They aim for sustainability in all aspects of their businesses. This has been highlighted in the Fresh Produce Journal’s UK Fruit & Vegetable Awards 2016, where G’s Fresh Mushrooms won the Barfoot’s Sustainability Award for their green energy generation. The Barfoot’s Sustainability Award recognises businesses that have gone above and beyond to operate sustainably.

The G’s mushroom farm in Cambridgeshire has developed a system that uses green energy generated from an onsite anaerobic digester instead of energy from non-renewable sources. Heat which is generated during the digestion process is transferred to the mushroom farm and is used in both the growing and hygiene operations, removing the energy-intensive traditional method of steam sterilisation of the tunnels.

The net effect of these actions is a reduction of circa four million kgs of CO2e vs a traditional mushroom farm over the space of a year.

A completely sustainable cycle, every year 25,000 tonnes of spent compost from G’s Fresh Mushrooms is applied on to the wider G’s Farms in the Fens as a soil conditioner. The Fens see on average up to 3cm of soil erosion per year and the addition of spent compost helps to reduce this significantly. Crops from these fields produce the waste material that goes into the anaerobic digester. The cycle continues.

Finally as mushroom farming is traditionally in small farms with enclosed structures, biodiversity and conservation are low priorities. However at G’s Fresh Mushrooms, they are actively developing new and existing wildlife habitats to encompass birds, insects and mammals. This biodiversity incorporates over 150 plant varieties, 20 species of mammals, 110 species of birds, 17 butterfly species and over five different types of specialist habitats, recognised by leading conservation and wildlife trusts as pioneering work.

Oystercatcher at Littleport Mushrooms - Sept 2016 - web - winners

Oystercatcher on wetland habitat at G’s Fresh Mushrooms. Image credit: S Abbott

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It’s the time of year when farmers’ thoughts turn to the management of their hedgerows. The winter crops have been drilled and there’s a bit of a lull in the arable farmer’s schedule before the spring field work begins.

road hedge cutting vehicle in rural countryside - hedgerows

Hedge cutting with a flail. Image credit: Bluestock/123.rf

What is a hedgerow?

The UK countryside is criss-crossed by hedgerows – long rows of bushes, sometimes containing trees, which have mainly been planted to keep livestock from straying or to mark parish boundaries. Not all have been planted though. Some are the edges of old woodland that has long-since been felled, while others may be the result of tree and shrub seedlings establishing themselves alongside a linear feature where they have been protected from grazing livestock.

For the purposes of hedgerow protection regulations, a hedgerow is defined as any boundary line of trees or shrubs over 20m long and less than 5m wide. Any bank, ditch, wall or tree within 2m of the centre of the hedge is considered to be part of the hedgerow habitat, as is the herbaceous vegetation within 2m of the centre of the hedgerow1.

The last Countryside Survey of the UK2, an ‘audit’ of the UK countryside’s natural resources, took place in 2007 and then it was estimated that there were 402,000km of managed hedgerows in the UK. This was a 6% decrease in length since the previous 1998 survey. Much of this loss was believed to be down to neglect and mismanagement leading to hedgerows becoming lines of gappy shrubs or trees, rather than the removal of hedgerows. Recent reports into our hedgerows suggest that the total length of the UK’s hedges may be increasing, with a lot of effort being put into new planting and better management, particularly under environmental stewardship schemes.

Working out the approximate age of a hedge

You can roughly work out the date of any hedge that hasn’t recently been planted by using the following formula:

  1. Choose a 30 metre length of hedge
  2. Count the number of species of trees and shrubs you find in it
  3. Multiply the number of species by 100

The answer is the approximate age of the hedge. One new species establishes itself about every 100 years, so a hedge with 3 species is about 300 years old. Bear in mind that a recent hedge may have been planted with several species but the look of the hedge should give you an idea as to whether you have an old, established hedge or a more recent one.

Why are hedgerows useful to wildlife?

Newly planted hedge on a Fair to Nature farm - hedgerows

Newly planted hedge on a Fair to Nature Farm. Image credit: B Hughes/CG

Hedgerows provide a home and a larder for many wildlife species, from butterflies such as the Brown Hairstreak and the Gatekeeper, to birds like the Cirl Bunting and the Turtle Dove, and mammals such as the Dormouse. They also provide safe corridors for wildlife to travel between other areas of habitat such as woodland. Bats are known to use hedge and tree lines as a navigation aid. A research project3 by Michael Pantling from Southampton University, which looked at bat activity and foraging along field boundaries, compared the management of boundaries and habitats on farms implementing government funded environmental stewardship schemes, Conservation Grade principles and organic principles. The common theme to come out of this research was the importance of hedgerow trees and hedgerow maintenance to avoid large gaps in the hedge line. Some bat species can be deterred by gaps of over 30m.

Different wildlife species prefer different types of hedgerow. Generally, the bigger the hedge the more wildlife it will support, but some species prefer shorter hedges and where these species are present hedge size should be taken into account. Lapwings, for example, favour open countryside so hedges should be kept shorter with less hedgerow trees for predators to hide in. Some smaller birds, such as Yellowhammer, like to nest in tighter, shorter hedges that offer protection from predator. Turtle Doves favour tall, straggly hedges to nest and shelter in.

Are there any restrictions governing hedgerow management?

Two pieces of legislation relevant to the management of the UK’s hedgerows are the Hedgerow Regulations 19974 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 19815. Farmers and landowners also have to be aware of the cross compliance rules6 governing boundary features (called GAEC 7a)

It is important not to disturb nesting birds. The main nesting period is between 1st March and 31st August so in most circumstances farmers and landowners are not allowed to cut or trim their hedges during this period.

How do Fair to Nature farmers manage their hedgerows?

A good habitat for turtle doves - hedgerows

A nice tall hedge – good habitat for turtle doves. Image credit: S Abbott/CG

Hedgerows can only survive in the long term if they are correctly managed. Otherwise they become a line of trees. Today incorrect management and neglect is leading to more hedgerow loss than outright removal.

Fair to Nature farmers really value their hedges. Many of our Fair to Nature farmers have increased the amount of hedgerows on their farms by planting new ones and rejuvenating existing hedges.

As long as the hedge isn’t overhanging a highway or obstructing a right of way, they plan their hedge cutting regime so that the farm contains hedges at different stages of growth, maximising their benefit to wildlife. Many tree and shrub species produce flowers on one year old twigs so by cutting the hedge annually this year-old growth is removed meaning no flowers for pollinators, and no fruit or nuts for birds and mammals. Only climbing plants such as roses, clematis and brambles produce good flower and fruit crops in hedgerows that are cut every year. Another good reason for not removing the new growth every autumn or winter is that the some invertebrate species, such as the Brown Hairstreak butterfly, only lay eggs on this new growth and annual cutting will destroy those eggs. So, where possible, Fair to Nature farmers cut one side of the hedge at a time, leaving the other side to grow for another year or so, meaning that there will always be flowers and fruit and nuts available. They also leave hedges to grow for 2 to 3 years between cuts. It has been estimated that for every year a hedge is left uncut it will gain two species of breeding bird!

On some Fair to Nature farms, the farmers are trying to encourage certain bird species such as Turtle Doves. Turtle Doves are quite specific in their choice of nesting and feeding habitat. They favour tall straggly hedges, like the one pictured left, to nest in leading into scrub adjacent to arable land for feeding. Plus they need a nearby water source to enable them to produce the crop milk that they feed their chicks on.

A managed hedge on a Fair to Nature farm - hedgerows

A managed hedge on the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Leicestershire farm. Image credit: S Abbott/CG

Some hedge management can look drastic to the untrained eye, such as coppicing where the hedge is cut right back, and laying, where the hedge is thinned out and the strong stems are chopped close to the ground so that just a section of bark and sap wood connects the stem to the stump. These are called ‘pleachers’. The stems are then laid along the hedge line, with smaller stems twined in between. Strength and stability is provided by upright stakes placed at intervals along the laid hedge. Often the laid hedge is finished using hazel whips woven through the tops of the stakes. Different parts of the UK have developed their own hedge laying methods over the years, often according to the type of livestock that the hedge is required to contain.

New hedge rejuvenation methods

Traditional hedge laying is a time consuming task, so new quicker methods have been developed, using chainsaws and farm machinery. Researchers at the Oxfordshire based Centre of Ecology and Hydrology7 have compared traditional hedge laying, conservation hedging (where the base of the hedge is cut as with traditional hedge laying and the stems are laid over but the remaining stems and branches are laid along the hedge line rather than to one side and fewer branches are removed), and wildlife hedging (where the base of the hedge is cut with a chainsaw, the vegetation is pushed over with a digger bucket, and no branches are removed) with reshaping of the hedge with a circular saw, and coppicing. They looked at regrowth from the base of the hedge and the canopy, hedgerow structure, berry provision for overwintering wildlife, and cost. The research showed that conservation hedging and wildlife hedging cost much less than traditional hedge laying and any differences in regrowth and berry provision had disappeared by year 3.   

These more drastic management methods are only undertaken where a hedge needs rejuvenating and/or brought back into use as a barrier. A coppiced or laid hedge will regrow and can then be managed as any other hedge.

Some good websites for more information about hedges and hedge management are:

Hedgelink

The Wildlife Trusts

Natural England

References:

1UK Biodiversity Action Plan; Priority Habitat Descriptions. BRIG (ed. Ant Maddock) 2008

2Countryside Survey 2007 –

http://www.countrysidesurvey.org.uk/sites/www.countrysidesurvey.org.uk/files/CS-UK-Results2007-Chapter05.pdf

3Pantling, M. 2014. Bat activity and foraging along agricultural field boundaries: The impact of agri-environment schemes. University of Southampton

4The Hedgerows Regulations – your questions answered, Defra, 1997 –

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/438650/hedgerow_your_questions_answered.pdf

5Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1377

6Guide to Cross Compliance in England: 2016 – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/guide-to-cross-compliance-in-england-2016/gaec-7a-boundaries

7Staley, J., Amy, S., Adams, N., Chapman, R., Peyton, J., Pywell, R. 2015. Re-structuring hedges: Rejuvenation management can improve the long term quality of hedgerow habitats for wildlife in the UK. Biological Conservation, 186, pp. 187-196. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320715001068

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The RSPB has announced the beginning of a new three year partnership with Conservation Grade, which will allow the two organisations to work together on behalf of wildlife.

Wild bird food growing adjacent to a crop of barley on a Fair to Nature farm. Photo credit: Peter Dean/Agripicture Images RSPB Partnership

Wild bird food growing adjacent to a crop of barley on a Fair to Nature farm. Photo credit: Peter Dean/Agripicture Images

Conservation Grade is the accreditation body behind the Fair to Nature scheme. The partnership between the two is helping to provide advice to farmers and promoting the benefits of the scheme to farm businesses.

For over 25 years Fair to Nature farmers have been setting high standards for nature-friendly farming, diligently creating homes and space for nature on at least 10% of their land, protecting hedges, soil and water, whilst producing the quality ingredients for Fair to Nature food brands.

Darren Moorcroft, Head of species and habitat conservation for the RSPB, said, “The recent State of Nature report, highlights the ongoing need for more wildlife-friendly farming if we are not to lose some of our countryside’s iconic species. Fair to Nature includes a package of measures which have been shown to really deliver for nature.  That’s why, as one the biggest providers of on-farm conservation advice in the UK, the RSPB is happy to be in this partnership.”

Conservation Grade’s Technical Manager, Brin Hughes said, “We are delighted that the RSPB will be working with us to help our countryside’s wildlife.

This new collaboration with the RSPB will help us extend the great work that our members and so many of the UK’s farmers are already doing for the environment. In this way we can reverse the declines our wildlife has experienced and continue to lead the way on UK farm sustainability.”

Andrew Elms - Fair to Nature Farmer - RSPB Partnership

Fair to Nature farmer Andrew Elms. Photo credit: William Shaw

The RSPB’s own arable farm in Cambridgeshire is also producing Fair to Nature rapeseed oil which is on sale at RSPB reserves and shops. Fair to Nature farmer Andrew Elms said, “Fair to Nature Farming has been hugely beneficial to farmland biodiversity. The introduction of pollen and nectar mixes, wild bird seed plots and overwintered stubble has given a huge helping hand to nature rather than leaving nature to fend for itself!”

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Last night’s episode of The One Show (22.11.2016) on BBC One featured some wonderful footage of Turtle doves both here in the UK and in their African wintering grounds, as John Mallord from the RSPB’s Science team talked to Richard Taylor-Jones about the importance of Operation Turtle Dove, the partnership project that is trying to stop this increasingly rare species from disappearing from the UK altogether. Although Turtle doves remain rare in the UK there are some success stories that give us hope, like Glebe Farm in Norfolk that featured in the film. With assistance from Operation Turtle Dove advisers, nesting and foraging habitats have been created and managed for these birds and the farm has seen numbers increase from zero to over 25 in just 4 years! For a limited period you can watch the clip again here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04hdm96.

Operation Turtle Dove featured on The One Show on 22nd November 2016. Image: BBC website

Operation Turtle Dove featured on The One Show on 22nd November 2016. Image: BBC website

Conservation Grade is one of the partners in Operation Turtle Dove. We are working with our farmer members in the Turtle dove hotspot areas of the Eastern Counties to establish more habitats suited to this species, so they have have somewhere to breed and raise their young when they return to the UK in the Spring.  We are also working with the Fair to Nature accredited brand, Steve’s Leaves, whose farm in Portugal provides a ‘service station’ for Turtle doves on their long migration.

Turtle Dove 2 - Brin Hughes - Apr 2012 - Steves Leaves - The One Show

A Turtle dove on the Steve’s Leaves farm in Portugal. Image: Brin Hughes/CG

You can find out more about Operation Turtle Dove by visiting the project website – www.operationturtledove.org.

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Today’s publication of the latest State of Nature Report shows that, although there are a few good news stories to celebrate, the overall picture is not a good one. 56% of UK species are in decline and of the 8,000 UK species assessed, one in ten is threatened with extinction. The report states that one of the most important factors influencing these declines is farming practices. As Mark Eaton, lead author of the report, comments, this is not deliberate but is a by-product of changes in farming practices in the move towards greater efficiency.

But this needn’t be an either/or situation. Most farmers want to see nature returning to their land, while making a living growing good quality food to feed a burgeoning population. Fair to Nature farming enables farmers to satisfy all of these aims. We work with our farmers to help buck the trend of declines in farmland wildlife and our scheme is judged by the RSPB as the best nature-friendly on-farm accreditation scheme in the UK.

All Fair to Nature farms are required to create and manage a suite of wildlife habitats providing homes and foraging areas for wildlife throughout the year. Evidence shows that these habitats halt the decline in many farmland species. These nature-friendly practices become part of the farming operation, with the farms providing ingredients to Fair to Nature brands that people can buy.
Wildflowers and oats State of Nature

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Bird 161004 is waiting to follow in the slip stream of Titan, the first turtle dove to be tracked from his breeding grounds in the UK to his wintering grounds in Africa and back, and needs a name! 161004 is one of 6 newly satellite tagged turtle doves, which were fitted with light weight backpack trackers in Eastern England this summer. The team at Operation Turtle Dove have whittled the hundreds of possible names, suggested over the weekend by supporters of the project, down to the top three and now we need to pick a winner! By the way, Bird 161004 is male.

Follow the RSPB (@Natures_Voice) on Twitter and place your vote…

 

TD 1 Feltwell 2 June 2016-160997_tcm9-422771 turtle dove name

One of the newly satellite tagged turtle doves. Photo credit: RSPB Images

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Operation Turtle Dove renews appeal for help to save species in light of evidence of turtle doves’ continuing decline

In light of the latest report (2015) on the findings of the annual UK Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), Operation Turtle Dove, of which Conservation Grade is a partner, has renewed calls for farmers, landowners and nature-lovers to join the fight to save the iconic turtle doves from extinction in the UK. The 2015 BBS Report, published last week, contained the news that turtle doves, whose numbers had been known to have fallen dramatically by 97 per cent since the 1970s, have been continuing in the same vein in more recent decades, declining by 93 per cent since 1994.

This news follows the addition last year of the European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) to the global Red List of threatened species for the first time, in recognition of the global extinction threat this once common bird now faces.

turtle dove T Nevard iconic bird

Photo credit: T Nevard

Chrissie Kelley, of Operation Turtle Dove partner Pensthorpe Conservation Trust: “These findings throw a spotlight on the urgent need for immediate action to address the causes of turtle dove decline if we hope to prevent their extinction as a breeding bird in this country in our lifetimes. Significant progress has been made in the last few years towards understanding why turtle dove numbers are falling so fast, now the challenge is to roll out effective solutions fast enough to turn things around before it’s too late.”

Scientists investigating the reasons for the turtle dove’s decline in the UK have found that food availability, or rather lack of it, in the countryside is likely to be the primary factor. Turtle doves are migratory birds that come to the UK in the summer to breed. When they get here they rely on the being an abundance of seeds from arable plants for them to feed on so they can get into breeding condition. Evidence points to the fact that the loss of their preferred food plants from the countryside as a result of agricultural intensification and changes in farming practices leaves the birds struggling to find food and this has ultimately resulted in a halving of the number of breeding attempts turtle doves are able to make each year before they have to leave on the migration back to Africa, where they spend the winter.

Chrissie Kelley: “As as a migratory species, turtle doves spend less than half the year here in Britain, but because this is where they nest, lay eggs, and rear young, what happens to them here has a huge impact on their population. While they also face threats and pressures on migration and in their wintering grounds, for example from hunting and habitat loss, at the end of the day if they are not able to rear enough chicks when they get to the UK, their numbers will continue to fall.”

Farmers and landowners taking up the turtle dove’s cause

The East of England is home to more than half of the UK’s remaining breeding turtle doves, and farmers and landowners in the region are on the front line in efforts to save them by creating feeding habitat for the birds and returning their food plants to the arable landscape.

iconic bird brick-kiln_july-new-2015-9

Foraging habitat for turtle doves. Photo credit: Operation Turtle Dove

Robert Hambidge, who farms in the Upper Wensum Valley in Norfolk, is mortified at the current plight of the turtle dove: “Turtle doves are a sound of summer but this steep decline is now leading us to a sound of silence. There is a feeling of urgency for those of us who are trying to safeguard the future of this stunning and gentle farmland species. On my farm turtle doves have been visiting for each and every season except this year, I can only hope and work with other farmers within the Upper Wensum to ensure we do all we can to save turtle doves.”

Samantha Lee, Operation Turtle Dove and RSPB farm conservation adviser: “Farmers in the East of England are already doing amazing work creating feeding habitat for turtle doves on their land, but turtle doves desperately need more farmers to come to their aid.

“Thanks to the Countryside Stewardship grants available to farmers for providing habitat for wildlife, helping turtle doves doesn’t mean having to take a financial hit by losing crop production capacity, but many farmers are going above and beyond the requirements of the Countryside Stewardship schemes, which is fantastic.”

As part of Operation Turtle Dove, RSPB turtle dove conservation advisers are able to support farmers in turtle dove hotspots in the East and South-East of England by providing free habitat management advice and assisting with Countryside Stewardship applications. Contact Samantha Lee, samantha.lee@rspb.org.uk.

What can the rest of us do?

Chrissie Kelley: “There are still things you can do to help turtle doves if you are one the majority of people who don’t have a farm, whether it’s in your garden, by supporting wildlife-friendly farmers through your shopping choices, or donating directly to the work of Operation Turtle Dove.”

Report a turtle dove sighting – Operation Turtle Dove uses turtle dove sightings submitted by the public to help target conservation activities at the locations where they will have the biggest positive impact.

Shop for turtle doves – Look out for ‘Fair to Nature’ products when you go shopping. Brands with the Fair to Nature logo source their ingredients from farms that actively manage at least 10 per cent of their farmland for the benefit of wildlife, including turtle doves.

Help turtle doves in your garden – If you have a country garden near arable farmland, you can help turtle doves by letting hedges and scrubby areas grow as tall, wide and bushy as possible, creating potential nesting habitat, and by planting fumitory, black medick, red and white clover, common vetch, and birds foot trefoil, as sources of seeds that the birds eat.

Support Operation Turtle Dove – By donating to Operation Turtle Dove, can help fund vital conservation efforts to make sure that turtle doves remain a feature of the British countryside in summer.

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Morrell’s is our newest Fair to Nature licensee, producing high-welfare beef on the Yorkshire Wolds. The wildlife on the farm is very important to farmer, Richard Morrell. The following post originally appeared on the Morrell’s website and has been reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Morrell.

Towthorpe Manor Farm is a 243 hectare arable and chalk dale farm in the Yorkshire Wolds. Richard Morrell manages the family farm growing winter wheat, winter barley, oil seed rape and winter oats sold to Jordans. Spring beans are the only spring crop sown at present so skylark plots are put into winter wheat to enhance the skylark population on the farm. Richard Morrell and his cows - Morrell's

Richard has recently signed up for the Conservation Grade scheme as the farm has an excellent HLS agreement with a range of in field options to support the farmland birds which include tree sparrows, grey partridge, yellow wagtails, skylarks, yellowhammers and barn owls. It is hoped that corn buntings will soon be added to the list.  Options include skylark plots, 2 hectares of wild bird seed mixes, 6 hectares of nectar mix, 4.7 hectares of floristically enhanced margins and 1.65 hectares of arable reversion to link up important habitats. Over wintered stubbles provide extra food and cover on this exposed Wolds farm.

All of the hedgerows are in ELS enhanced management. Low input grassland and ELS field corners help to support the barn owls. There is also a healthy population of hares and roe deer. Nest boxes for tree sparrows and barn owls around the farm will provide safe nesting opportunities.

An additional 5 hectares of seed and insect rich mix including triticale, mustard and phacelia is sown for the low profile shoot.

Two chalk dales are included in the HLS agreement due to their important range of wild flowers including clustered bell flower, rock rose, thyme and ladies bedstraw.  Grazing management of the dales is important to enhance the floristic interest for butterflies which include marbled whites so Richard has recently set up herds of both Highland and Belted Galloways to deal with the Tor Grass which is in danger of smothering the wild flowers.  In winter the cattle are fed on the bales removed from the nectar mix and floristically enhanced margins. A small flock of breeding ewes is also used to manage the grazing.

Care for the environment is a key part of all areas of farm management.  Minimum tillage techniques are used where possible to reduce costs and carbon impact.  A move to liquid fertiliser has been made this year to get a definitive cut off between arable crops and prevent contamination of the important habitats. Variable application of nitrogen fertilisers using real time scanning of the crop will be used next spring to ensure that this carbon costly product is used as efficiently as possible. GPS yield maps are created and analysed to monitor response to inputs. Pest thresholds are used to avoid spraying insecticides when possible and where there is a choice the least harmful products are selected. Investment in a weed wiper allows targeted application of herbicides in grassland areas.

“Integrating modern efficient and profitable farming with conservation is where the future is, we can produce food and look after wildlife efficiently” says Richard “I derive a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from seeing the flora and fauna flourishing on the farm. The HLS income is guaranteed which in a volatile commodity market is an important consideration for managing the business”.

Morrell’s Belted Galloway beef is available to buy through the online shop on their website, and in Fodder Food Hall & Cafe in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

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Each year a million Turtle Doves are illegally hunted on migration.  RSPB’s Senior Farmland Conservation Officer Niki Williamson explains the extent of the problem and how you can help.

A perilous journey and an Inglorious race

Niki Williamson

Senior Farmland Conservation Officer, Niki Williamson

Close encounters with bushfires, pursuits by angry men with machetes, vehicle-destroying roads, breath-taking birding.  This time last year, at the end of a perilous and unforgettable trip to The Gambia with #TeamPeanut, Conservation Grade’s Simon Tonkin and I were preparing to return home.

Our mission – to design a protocol for peanut-growers to produce Fair to Nature peanuts to supply bird food for RSPB and others – was well on the way to success.  Our work would help save Turtle Doves by providing habitat in their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.

Much as air travel terrifies both of us, by comparison to recent days we felt rather safe and comfortable as we sat back on the plane with a beer and a complimentary bag of pretzels.

The Turtle Doves we saw on our trip were also preparing to return home.  But unlike us, their perilous adventure was just beginning, and many would not survive the journey.

As if completing a 3,000 km journey, including crossing the Sahara, isn’t enough, these birds must then run the gauntlet of illegal hunting in the Mediterranean countries where they desperately need to rest and refuel.

Injured Turtle Dove - Photo - HOS

An injured Turtle Dove in Greece. Photo credit: Hellenic Ornithological Society

Across Mediterranean countries like Greece, Cyprus and Malta, it is estimated a million Turtle Doves are slaughtered as they try to make their way home to their northern European breeding grounds.  Most are shot for sport or food, often after being lured to a watering hole by the desperate calls of a caged decoy bird.

Although the Turtle Dove’s drastic decline is strongly linked to changing agricultural practices in its breeding grounds, hunting in Mediterranean countries puts added pressure on a struggling population and represents what could be the final nail in the Turtle Dove’s coffin.

And that is why I’m writing here!  This Easter, Simon and I will reunite for another perilous adventure to save Turtle Doves, and we need your support! 

Alongside our friends and colleagues Fran Vargas (Conservation Manager for Greek Birdlife partner Hellenic Ornithological Society) and Pete Alfrey (Beddington Farmlands Nature Reserve), we will be competing in ‘Champions of the Flyway’, an annual birding race held in Israel, to raise money to stop illegal hunting of birds in the Mediterranean.

Competing under the team name The Inglorious Bustards, we will have 24 hours to spot as many species as possible, while aiming to raise over £3000 for projects to stop illegal hunting of birds.

This year one of the projects supported by the event will be an awareness campaign in several prime tourist destinations in Greece, where an estimated 130,000 Turtle doves are shot each year.  This will make it more difficult for hunters to go undetected and give more Turtle doves safe passage home.

We’ll need lots of Twitter support to cheer us on while we compete against teams from across the world! Follow us (we’re @Otis_inglorius) and the event (@flywaychampions, #COTF2016) for live race day shenanigans on 29 March, and help us spread the word about the event and the wildlife crime we are fighting to end.

But most importantly we need help to raise money and protect the miracle of migration.

Please visit the Champions of the Flyway website to learn more about the event, and then show your love for Turtle doves by visiting the Inglorious Bustards’ team page where you can donate to our Just Giving site. Birds have no choice but to make their perilous journey every year.  We may not be able to give them complimentary pretzels, but it is up to us to help ensure them safe passage home, for everyone to enjoy.

Champions of the Flyway - BirdLife

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