Crop and estate management
Crop treatments came to an end in mid-October as crop growth slowed with the coming of winter. The only activity to benefit the crops from now until spring is the use of gas bangers around the oilseed rape to keep the woodpigeons off. Spring will be signalled in early March (given a 'normal' year) when the first of the nitrogen fertilizers will go on.
The effect of different cultivation and sowing dates on allowing weeds to germinate can now be seen very clearly on the strips of wheat fields where we are assessing the weed populations. We have a series of fallowed areas that have been cultivated, no crops have been drilled and no herbicides applied.
The areas created in early September are a thick carpet of plants. From a distance they look as green and lush as the adjoining crop. The areas created in early October stand out as bare, brown blocks amongst the wheat. Very few weeds have emerged. The whole of the later sown fields were judged so relatively weed free that they have not received a single herbicide since they were sown.
There is also a visible difference between the field sown with wheat at double the normal row spacing and the adjacent field, sown the same afternoon, at a conventional spacing. The latter has an even green finish to the field now the wheat has closed across the gaps between the rows. In contrast, there is still a distinct brown stripe of bare ground between the wider spaced rows. This is the space that we are looking for to attract skylarks in to nest but it may also be a space for weeds to thrive. A careful eye will be kept on this field.
Birds and biodiversity
The last of the summer stragglers went in November - a swallow on the 5th and a red admiral butterfly on the 6th. Blackbird numbers built up in November and we were left wondering if this was the local birds concentrating on our land or if it was due to winter visitors. One carrying a German ring on its leg proved that there were some visitors among them.
These blackbirds and some fieldfares benefited from the apples that we collected from the orchard and now brought out of store. During a period of over a week of frost a dozen blackbirds were feeding together on the apples put out on one small lawn by the farmhouse.
We increased the amount of seed put out at our feeding site on the edge of a field from 5 kg per week to 10 kg per week in mid-November. Chaffinch numbers rose steadily to the end of the year and they were joined by a few yellowhammers. At the same time the number of yellowhammers on our area of crops which were not harvested dropped markedly.
Initial thoughts are that now that the wheat almost all gone, through a combination of being eaten and falling to the ground, there is not an attractive source of food for yellowhammers. The autumn sown crops offer little for birds other than the oilseed rape that attracts the woodpigeons.
Night-time observation for mammals has also revealed three woodcocks feeding on our land, two in wheat fields and one on natural regeneration set-aside. This latter field also held a snipe for a few days.