Hainey Farm butterfly surveyEcologist, John Day, from the RSPB, undertook a butterfly survey at the Fair to Nature accredited Hainey Farm, in Cambridgeshire at the end of July. The survey is a snap-shot of the butterflies that make use of the wonderful variety of wildlife habitats on the farm.

Hainey Farm is farmed by Cambs Farms Growers and became Fair to Nature accredited in early 2017. It is also a LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) demonstration farm, hosting a very successful Open Farm Sunday event in June every year, and is in Countryside Stewardship. Cambs Farms Growers have established a wide range of wildlife habitats on over 10% of the farm, including wild bird food seed mixes to feed farmland birds over the lean late winter/early spring months, wild flower meadows to provide food for pollinators, wet grasslands, and reedbeds for breeding waders. The crops produced include celery, onions, lettuce as well as wheat and sugar beet.

Hainey Farm butterfly survey - meadow brownMr Day recorded 13 species of butterfly during his 3.5 hour visit on a bright sunny day in July. The predominant species observed was the large white (Pieris brassicae), with over 100 individuals counted. Other species that were seen in large numbers were the gatekeeper (Pyronia Tithonus), the meadow brown (Maniola jurtina) and the the peacock (Aglais io).

Although this was a butterfly survey, 5 species of dragonfly and damselfly were counted and 29 species of birds were recorded by sight and/or sound, including 9 kestrels. A pair of brown hares topped off the visit.

Tagged with: , , , ,
CG Blog
Barn Owl ring 1 (002) steve mumford

Ringing a Barn Owl at May Farm. Photo: Steve Mumford

2019 has been a successful year for Barn Owls on the Fair to Nature accredited May Farm, near Ely, Cambridgeshire. May Farm is the site of Littleport Mushrooms, which is part of the G’s Group and grows mushrooms for major supermarkets. The farm joined the Fair to Nature scheme in 2017 and their biodiversity manager, Steve Mumford, has created a diverse range of wildlife habitats around the mushroom tunnels, including a wetland scrape and turtle dove habitat.

Three Barn Owl pairs have nested on the farm this year. One pair were unsuccessful in raising a brood, but Steve thinks they may be young birds. Of the other two pairs, one has raised one chick and the other has raised three chicks.

All the chicks have been leg-ringed under the BTO Schedule 1 license by Steve and Professor Tony Martin.

Barn Owls lay clutches of 4 to 7 white eggs which are laid at two-day intervals, the female begins incubating the eggs after the first egg is laid. Only the female carries out the incubation which takes 32 to 34 days. At this time, she is fed by the male. After hatching the chicks are fed by both parents and Barn Owls can often be seen hunting in the day in suitable weather.

The chicks grow rapidly on a diet of Short-Tailed Field Voles, Bank Voles and Wood Mouse which thrive in abundance in the wildlife habitats at May Farm. After around 60 days in the nest box the young owls will start to fly. They will be cared for by the parents until they become independent at around 10 weeks old.

We know, from research that Barn Owl chicks disperse up to 12-15km after they gain independence. Hopefully the May Farm birds will disperse and populate other G’s farms in the area and begin their own families in the years to come!

Barn Owl Steve 6 May (002) steve mumford

A Barn Owl family at May Farm. Photo: Steve Mumford

Tagged with: , , ,
CG Blog

Guest post by Georgie Bray, Acting Farm Manager, Hope Farm

Last winter was an interesting one at Hope Farm, enabling us to see how farm management, the weather, and the interactions between these factors impact farmland birds. Last summer was a hard one for growing spring cereals with the dry weather, and we predicted that it would make for a harder winter on the birds that relied on cereal seed in winter bird seed mixes as their main food source. With that in mind, and looking at the distribution of birds across the farm, we can get a real understanding of why our farmland bird index has increased over twelve-fold, but also where the farm has fallen short against record years.

Smaller seed eating birds thrived off the dominating small seed-bearing plants in our seed mixes. It’s always positive to start off with where birds are thriving on the farm, and where we and other farmers across the country will be supporting birds with similar provisions throughout winter. In simple terms, where there was food, the birds flocked! The three and a half hectares of winter bird seed mixes had lots of small seed-bearing plants like quinoa, mustard, buckwheat, phacelia, and millet. As birds were used to using that area for feeding, we also put down supplementary seed of wheat, oilseed rape, red millet, and canary grass. Linnet, reed bunting and chaffinch probably did the best out on these parts of the farm, with record linnet counts seen since we bought Hope Farm nearly 20 years ago. It just goes to show the proof in the pudding here, that if the right food is put out for birds, they will thrive.

 where birds are

Linnet (adult female) feeding on grain at Hope Farm. Image: www.rspb-images.com

The usefulness of the winter bird food was probably improved by the large hedges nearby, as the small song birds tended to flit between the hedge and the food sources, using the thick thorned vegetation as a means of predator protection. Elsewhere on the farm, birds like goldfinch and the other non-farmland-bird songbird species were still concentrated around the hedge and coppice areas of the farm.

Although areas specifically maintained for conservation purposes were diverse and full of bird life, cropped areas could still be a stronghold for birds. There is quite a large acreage of direct drilled oilseed rape across the farm and these areas were great for grey partridge, skylark, meadow pipit, and even some waders like snipe and woodcock. Here, the soil ecosystem underground was relatively undisturbed with a rotting root system from the previous harvest to accompany the new growing roots, as a result of the direct drilled crop. This kind of soil structure is perfect for many soil dwelling invertebrates that in turn provide a good food supply for insectivorous birds. The vegetation structure in these fields also provides a good cover for waders, skylark and meadow pipit. The leaves are a fantastic food resource for wood pigeon but they aren’t the birds that we try to feed on the farm!

So why wouldn’t you see so many birds on the farm this year?

Although the winter bird seed mixes had a strong small seed component, the cereal component of triticale and barley really struggled to grow in the summer drought after it was planted in May. This meant that large seed eating birds like yellowhammer and corn bunting would have found it harder to find food out on the farm where large cereal seeds were not put out via supplementary feeding. Yellowhammers were our most abundant large cereal eating bird, and their distribution underlined a lack of cereals in the winter bird seed mixes. Although they were seen around the farm hedgerows, they were really concentrated to our supplementary feed stations.

This has underlined a few things for us, about the concerns about these birds finding enough food over winter if cereals continue to have poor growing years in winter bird seed mixes. Next year, if we have another poor season, we’ll hold back more cereals after harvest to keep these birds going over winter.

Although birds will have had a harder time finding food, there has been one saving grace – how mild the weather has been. When the weather gets tough, the flocks get going, and when the flocks get going we count huge numbers. 2017/18 and 2011/12 winters were mega counts, but that partly resulted from a tough year where they flocked together in such large numbers. With birds more widely dispersed, counts could be slightly lower.

At a glance, we had a look at the maps from our trusty bird surveyors and this was where some key farmland species were found in a greater abundance: 

  • Grey partridge: found consistently in the winter bird seed mix, and where overwinter stubble has either been left or direct drilled with OSR or a cover crop
  • Yellowhammer: found throughout the farm but really concentrated to hedgerows, and more so nearby supplementary feed stations where wheat was left out for them
  • Corn bunting: a poor show with only one sighting at the beginning of the year but spotted next to a supplementary feeding station where we were putting wheat out
  • Starling: fewer birds in comparison to previous years with only the tens spotted rather than flocks of a few hundred. Main repeat sightings were around the paddocks where short grass could give them plenty of space to forage, with trees bordering these habitats. 
  • Jackdaw: Seen increasingly on the winter beans of which we had a large acreage this year  – no surprises there, with plenty of bean food for them!
  • Linnet: A record year this year and found almost exclusively around the winter bird food and supplementary feeding stations on the farm where there was plenty of small seed food available

The three surveys that mean every metre of farm is walked to within 25m in a morning, allow the calculation of a Hope Farm winter bird index. This gives a measure of average change in the suite of 16 farmland bird species on the farm. The index now stands at 12.15 above the baseline, or equivalent to 1115% increase. This is slightly lower than the last three winters but still our 4th highest winter count since monitoring began.

The difference in abundance of each farmland bird species in December, January and February between 2000 and 2019:

 

2000 / 2001 winter count

2018 / 2019 winter count

  12/12/2000 09/01/2001 13/02/2001 11/12/2018 14/01/2019 20/02/2019
kestrel

0

1

0

1

1

1

grey partridge

0

0

0

35

29

20

lapwing

0

0

0

0

0

0

stock dove

0

0

0

26

50

37

wood pigeon

17

216

114

757

405

301

skylark

5

15

35

171

106

101

jackdaw

0

0

0

22

42

50

rook

1

0

0

18

122

35

starling

0

7

11

83

12

9

tree sparrow

0

0

0

0

0

0

greenfinch

9

17

42

15

27

1

goldfinch

0

1

0

45

17

25

linnet

0

0

0

209

281

35

yellowhammer

0

1

2

156

123

44

reed bunting

3

1

3

49

49

61

corn bunting

0

0

0

2

0

0

The Hope Farm Winter Bird Index, calculating a proportional change in the 16 overwintering farmland bird species from the time that we purchased Hope Farm.

Tagged with: , , ,
CG Blog
National Nest Box Week - Barn Owl

Barn Owl peeping out of Nestbox during ringing by licensed professional. Photo credit: N Rowsell

As you may be already aware, it’s National Nestbox Week this week (14-21 Feb). First established in 1997 by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and birdcare supplier Jacobi Jayne, National Nestbox Week aims to encourage everyone to provide extra homes for birds. Traditionally nestboxes have been put up in early Spring, ready for the nesting season, although many birds are already looking around for the perfect nesting site. Boxes put up in the Autumn can provide cosy roosting sites, so the advice is to put up boxes whenever they are ready!

There are plenty of places to buy nestboxes but it can be very satisfying to make one yourself. Organisations such as the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts have online instructions for building a simple nestbox. There are some links at the bottom of this post. It’s a great activity to do with groups of children. They can hone their carpentry skills, while learning about the different bird species and the importance of providing a safe place for birds to roost and nest. 

The populations of many of our wild bird species are in decline and a major factor in that decline is the lack of suitable habitat for the birds to feed and nest. More land is being built on, and gardens and green spaces are getting tidier, pushing the birds out.

Nestboxes come in many shapes and sizes. Different bird species have different housing requirements. Birds like Tree Sparrows like to nest in colonies so favour many single nestboxes close together, or a terrace type nestbox – just like terrace housing! Tree Creeper boxes are wedge shaped, with a hole in the side of the box near where it attaches to the tree. Swift boxes are an oblong box with a narrow slit entrance. On the subject of Swifts, the RSPB has been working with house builders to get Swift bricks incorporated into new buildings and renovations. They are aiming to get another 1000 Swift nestboxes put up before the birds arrive back in the UK in April. You can find out more about the project on the Swifts page of the RSPB website.

The siting of nestboxes depends on the birds you are trying to attract. For most nestboxes the trunks of trees are ideal but if you don’t have trees in your garden, the side of your house or a shed will do. Swift boxes need to be sited under the eaves of a building. Swallows prefer nooks and crannies in outbuildings. Open fronted boxes will need to be protected by a covering of foliage. All boxes should be sited out of reach of cats, with the entrance hole facing in a northerly direction, if possible, away from the prevailing wind and rain. 

Instructions to make your own nestbox:

RSPB: Build a Bird Box – https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-families/family-wild-challenge/activities/build-a-birdbox/

Wildlife Trusts: How to build a nesting box for birds – https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-build-nesting-box-birds

Find out more about National Nestbox Week at https://www.nestboxweek.com/

Our Fair to Nature friends at GardenBird and the RSPB both sell a wide range of nestboxes if you don’t have time or the tools to make one!

 

Tagged with: , , ,
CG Blog

Today (Monday 14th January 2019) the UK Government launched the new Clean Air Strategy 2019. The strategy sets an ambitious, long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM), which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified to be the most damaging air pollutant. The major components of PM are sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water.

So how does this affect farmers?

UK agriculture is responsible for 88% of ammonia emissions. In 2016, one quarter of those emissions came from fertiliser use. The rest comes from livestock farming via the use of high-protein food, much of which can be traced back to fertiliser use. Ammonia reacts with nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide to form secondary particulate matter.

How does the UK Government plan to tackle ammonia emissions from agriculture?

The Clean Air Strategy sets out three main measures by which the Government will encourage the reduction of ammonia emissions from agricultural practises:

  • Support farmers to invest in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions.
  • Introduce regulations to require farmers to use low emission farming techniques.
  • Introduce regulations to minimise pollution from fertiliser use.

In September 2018 the Government launched a new £3 million programme through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership to fund a team of specialists to work with farmers and landowners in priority areas to provide support and advice.

The Government also proposes that funding from future Agricultural Policy should go towards targeted action to protect habitats from pollution.

Clean Air

Photo credit: Brin Hughes/CG

Tagged with: , ,
CG Blog
Agriculture Bill

Turtle Dove habitat on a Fair to Nature farm. Photo credit: S Abbott/RSPB

This autumn saw the publication of the first new UK Agriculture Bill for 70 years. It was published alongside a policy statement and together they reaffirm the government’s commitment to public money for public goods. This really is a step change for farming in the UK. By recognising the importance of environmental protection and enhancement the approach is in tune with all Fair to Nature is seeking to achieve!

A key plank of the new policy in England will be the  Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. Although very much under development, this will supersede the current agri-environment schemes. The ambition is for it to be more results based, simpler to access and allow efficient farming and improving the environment to go hand in hand. A Tests and Trials Advisory Group has been convened to co-design the scheme.

In addition to support for public goods and ELM, the policy also refers to the need to maintain regulatory protections and  improve transparency in the supply chain – both really important elements of a more sustainable farming system.

Although these are all positive developments, as always, the devil is in the detail and if this new agriculture policy is going to deliver for people and wildlife there are still crucial details which need to be pinned down.

The Bill provides a framework through which the ambitions of the policy can be delivered but none of this is guaranteed. There are some fairly sizeable holes which will need filling to ensure the new approach does not sink without trace. These include: secure long-term funding; a clear and ambitious purpose to improve the environment and a duty to have an environmental land management scheme to ensure its not lost on the whim of a future government.

You can read more about the Bill here.

Thank you to Lucy Bjorck from the RSPB’s Land Use Policy Unit for this article.

Tagged with: , , ,
CG Blog

New Year Resolutions - bee - What do Bees Need?It’s Bees Needs Week! This annual event is organised by the Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as part of England’s National Pollinator Strategy. Various events are going on around the country to celebrate and promote what bees and other pollinators do for us. The event was launched in Carnaby Street, which has been renamed Carnabee Street for the week. Visitors can visit a pop-up ‘hive’ at 3 Carnaby Street to find out more about our furry little friends.

Pollinators, such as bees, are vital to the growth of our food crops. According to the charity Buglife, it is estimated that 84% of EU crops (valued at £12.6 billion) and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination The insects forage for food in the flowers and, in the process, transfer pollen from one flower to another (pollination), enabling fertilisation to take place. Without fertilisation these plants would not be able to set seed or produce fruit. The ecosystem services provided by these little creatures is often overlooked.

The National Pollinator Strategy aims to build on our understanding of the contribution of pollinators to our food supply and to prevent declines in pollinator populations. There are 5 simple actions that many of us can take to help prevent pollinator declines:

  • Cut grass less often – daisies and dandelions are great sources of pollens and nectar.
  • Let your garden grow wild – or at least have a wild area within your garden. How about a mini wildflower meadow?
  • Don’t disturb insect nests and hibernation spots
  • Think carefully about whether to use pesticides
  • Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees

Our Fair to Nature farmers know the importance of pollinators to the success of their crops and encourage them on to their farms by planting areas of pollen and nectar rich wildflowers, like the one below.

Wildflower margin on a Fair to Nature farm - What do Bees Need?

Wildflower margin on a Fair to Nature farm.Photo credit: Brin Hughes

 

Tagged with: , , ,
CG Blog

New Year resolutions - butterflyHappy New Year! Let’s make 2018 a good year for nature!

Here are some simple New Year resolutions that will lessen our impact on the natural environment around us and even help us feel good:

When shopping…

Buy loose fruit and vegetables and use paper bags where possible instead of pre-packaged in plastic.

Give up using plastic drinking straws. Switch to paper, metal or bamboo straws or just go without! Take the Plastic Challenge.

Keep reusable shopping bags with you in your car or bag to save money and reduce the number of plastic bags in circulation.

Plan meals and buy smaller amounts of perishable items to reduce food waste and save money. Check out Love Food Hate Waste for some tips on how to use up leftovers. 

Choose brands that go the extra mile for nature, such as those that have Organic certification or labels such as  Fair to Nature, LEAF, or Pasture for Life.

For more information about making your shop nature-friendly read Chris Kent’s blog ‘6 ways to make your shopping basket nature friendly’.

In your garden…

Leave an area of your garden to grow wild if you have the space. This will encourage wildlife to forage and perhaps nest in your garden.

Insect mansionPut up a bird box and build a bug hotel. Buglife’s insect hotel is simple to make and the RSPB website has detailed instructions for building a bird box.

Provide food for birds and site the feeder so it’s visible from your window so you can enjoy watching the variety of visitors. You could take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch between 27th and 29th January 2018! Make sure you regularly clean the feeders to stop the spread of diseases, and look out for bird food that is grown in a nature-friendly way, such as Fair to Nature bird food from the RSPB, Honeyfield’s, National Trust, and GardenBird. Check out our ‘Feeding garden birds’ page.

When out and about…

Wildlife gardeningEngage with nature. The more we interact with and learn about nature, the more we are prepared to protect it for futures generations to enjoy. Research has shown that interacting with nature also makes us happier!

Visit your local nature reserve. The RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust websites can point you in the direction of your nearest UK reserves.

Join a Green Gym or volunteer at your local park. A lot of parks have voluntary groups of Friends who help to maintain the space. A great way to get fresh air, exercise and companionship for free!

Or simply enjoy a walk in your local park or green space!

Here’s to a great 2018!

CG Blog
What's in my patch? Red Campion #2

Red Campion Silene dioica. Photo credit: S Abbott/CG

Red Campion (Silene dioica) is also known as Red Catchfly in the USA. It is a member of the Pink family (Caryophyllaceae). This pretty perennial plant has deep pink flowers with notched petals on a hairy stem up to 1m tall. In the wild it favours lowland soils and shady areas and is a common sight along roadside verges. The best time to see the plant in flower is late spring, when the bluebells begin to fade, and into the summer months.

What's in my patch? Red Campion #1The 20mm wide flowers open during the day and are very attractive to pollinating invertebrates with a long proboscis (or tongue)!

When sowing Red Campion in a wildflower seed mix, farmers need to keep the seed rate low as in favourable conditions it can take over a wildflower area as happened spectacularly at the former Fair to Nature office! It looked great though, and it was buzzing with insect life, as well as being a talking point for visitors!

Did you know that Silene, in Red Campion’s scientific name, comes from the Greek God Silenus? Silenus was often depicted as a drunkard and got his name from the Greek word for saliva – ‘sialon’ – as he was often covered in a sticky foam. Female Red Campion flowers produce a sticky foam to capture pollen from visiting insects.

What's in my patch? Red Campion

A riot of Red Campion at the former Fair to Nature HQ in 2016. Photo credit: S Abbott/CG

Tagged with: , , , , ,
CG Blog
37185438 - cowslips on a hill in the landscape cowslip

Cowslips. Photo credit: pixphoto/123rf.com

The egg yolk yellow flowers of the Cowslip (Primula veris) are a welcome sign of spring. A herbaceous perennial of the Primrose family Primulaceae, the Cowslip flowers throughout April and May, providing an early nectar source for long tongued bees, butterflies, moths and bee flies. The flowering stems arise out of a rosette of wrinkled leaves and the flowers are a deep yellow with an orange base. The flowers cluster together at the top of the stems, often drooping to one side. The plant prefers chalky soils that are moist and well draining but can also grow well in dry, non-calcareous soils. 

Common in traditional meadows, it is sometimes present in the wildflower areas managed by our Fair to Nature farmers. One of our members’ has a former arable field that has been reverted back to grassland and Cowslips are now abundant in this field. Another of our members’ has a long established wildflower area adjacent to an arable field and the Cowslips are the first to flower in this habitat each year. The name ‘Cowslip’ is derived from the Old English word for cow pat, cu-sloppe, reflecting the presence of the plant in traditional grazed meadows.

Cowslip

The nodding flowers of the Cowslip. Photo credit: S Abbott/CG

Although still a common flower in many parts of the UK, the Cowslip is declining and meadows full of Cowslips are a rarity. Much of the decline occurred between the 1940s and 1980s as agriculture intensified. Only 2% of the wildflower meadows that existed in the UK in the 1930s remain today!

You can help our farmers to create and manage more wildflower areas in our countryside by choosing Fair to Nature brands. The brands contribute towards the cost of managing the wildlife habitats.

Tagged with: , , , ,
CG Blog

Photo Gallery

Latest Tweets