Crop and estate management
The regular thump of gas bangers is a sign that the wintering flock of woodpigeons has not dispersed yet. There have been over a thousand in the area and it has proved difficult to keep a proportion of them off one part of an oilseed rape field near a house - a gas banger sited here would not have proved popular.
The remaining fields of rape are looking far healthier than last year when our yields were halved by poor growing conditions in the wet autumn and winter accompanied by slug and pigeon damage. The wheat fields that had stayed so relatively weed free finally had their first herbicide spray (other than in our trial areas) during a warm and still period in mid-February.
It is still planned to have the first nitrogen application on in early March and that will be followed shortly after by the fungicide treatments.
Birds and biodiversity
The cold spell at the start of the year put the numbers of chaffinches up, the peak was around 90 birds, and the seed we have been putting out at our feeding site on set-aside has gone faster than ever. We have increased the rate to 20 kg at the beginning of each week and an additional 5 kg at the end of the week if all the seed has gone.
Our first brambling has been recorded on the farm, taking some of this food put out at the feeding site. A small group of yellowhammers has fed with these chaffinches but our wild bird cover crop continues to be little used now that the seed has been stripped.
Comparing this winter with the last, the effect of the feeding on the total population of certain birds wintering on the farm has been revealed. We were able to compare the numbers of chaffinch, linnet and yellowhammer between winters. Chaffinch numbers have more than doubled in this winter and yellowhammer numbers increased by over tenfold. Linnet numbers have remained unchanged at none in both periods even though we were feeding rapeseed, one of their favoured foods over the summer.
A recent sign of spring has been that the skylarks have started singing. The first was on the 30 January and the whole farm count in February revealed 22 singing skylarks. This offers some hope of another increase in skylark numbers this breeding season.
The sorting and counting of the seeds contained within the surface soil samples taken from our fields over the last year is now complete. Initial thoughts on what we have found is that we shouldn't be surprised that our set-aside is so little used from the autumn onwards - there may be a lot of small wheat grains on the surface just after the harvest but they disappear as rapidly as in those fields that are cultivated and sown with the next crop. This appears to be mainly because the wheat germinates with the first rains.