Crop and estate management
March and April have seen the most intensive period of crop inputs with the rape and wheat receiving nitrogen fertiliser as they begin to pick up with the spring. The wheat has also received additional treatments for fungal diseases and, on a field by field basis following crop inspections by an agronomist, herbicides against cleavers and blackgrass.
The result has been virtually weed free and very vigorous stands of wheat. This has been what we sought, with the pressure on the skylarks to use the unsown patches rather than the bulk of the wheat. The rape has not quite matched this specification, having suffered from poor growth over the winter along with slug and pigeon damage. The result is some unplanned patchiness, not what we sought because this could draw the skylarks away from our trial areas in the wheat.
A further confounding factor is the occurrence of spring tillage and cropping on adjacent farms following their failure to establish a crop in the autumn. If the skylarks still use the unsown patches with all those attractions around, we may be onto something.
Birds and biodiversity
The final tally of birds over the 'winter' (September to March inclusive) was 65 species, eight of which just flew over and could not be claimed as connected to our land. The most numerous species on the systematic whole farm counts were woodpigeon, skylark, blackbird, starling, chaffinch and greenfinch. April saw the start of the breeding season territory counts, weekly butterfly transects and regular moth trapping.
Breeding birds that are settling in already include swallow, skylark, linnet, yellowhammer and reed bunting. The late returning migrants, turtle dove and spotted flycatcher, have yet to put in an appearance. April also saw a flush of migrants through the site including two grasshopper warblers which chose to sing for a few days in the Countryside Stewardship grass margins and recently planted hedges.