|Hope for Farmland Wildlife
In the flat, intensive arable fields of Cambridgeshire, in the UK lies a small oasis rich in wildlife, where the volume of birdsong has been turned up loud and the fields hum with insects.
Hope Farm is the source of the noise and the cause is the successful use of the English widespread “entry-level scheme”. Purchased in 2000 by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), with the aim of developing and trialling farming techniques that could produce food and still provide for wildlife, the farm is a medium-sized arable farm like any other. Conventionally managed like 95% of all arable farms in England, with a typical rotation of winter sown wheat, oilseed rape and spring sown beans, Hope Farm does not at first appear remarkable.
What is remarkable is the recovery of farmland bird numbers. The “farmland bird indicator” – the combined trend in numbers of a suite of farmland birds – has rocketed by 200% over the last 10 years. This is more impressive when viewed alongside continued regional and national declines. What may surprise some is that this recovery has been accompanied by an increase in food production. Threatened species have fared particularly well on the farm. It now hosts 43 pairs of skylark compared to just 10 in 2000, linnets number 28 pairs rather than 6, and grey partridge, lapwing and yellow wagtail have all returned to breed. These results have been achieved by using a combination of simple measures available in a widespread agri-environment scheme (the so-called farmland bird package). Flower-rich grass margins, wild bird cover, pollen and nectar mixtures and skylark plots all combine to meet the requirements of farmland birds. Give farmland birds nesting sites, winter seed food and summer insect food – the “Big 3” of all they need to survive and breed – and the response can be miraculous. Hope Farm does indeed give us hope for the future of farmland birds. Without sacrificing food production we can turn the volume up across Europe.
| Further reading:
RSPB (BirdLife partner in the UK)
Ian Dillon, Ian.Dillon(at)rspb.org.uk