Early March saw the launch of the new Environmental Stewardship Schemes, which includes many options which the RSPB has designed and/or promoted for some time.
The last few months has been spent preparing the farm to meet the requirements of the scheme and provide the three vital ingredients which farmland birds need to thrive - safe nest sites, supplies of insect food in the breeding season and a plentiful supply of seeds in the winter.
Six metre margins have been left around one of our larger fields. These will be cultivated in the spring and sown with blocks of wild bird mix and pollen and nectar mixes. The wild bird mixtures include triticale, quinoa and kale - all seed-bearing plants which will attract buntings and finches to feed next winter.
The pollen and nectar mixes include phacelia, red clover and bird's foot trefoil, which are hugely attractive to bees and butterflies. Such habitats, alongside our sympathetic hedgerow management and 140 skylark plots in all our winter wheat fields, help us to qualify for a payment of £30 per hectare across the whole farm.
We are ensuring that the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme at Hope Farm will not only benefit the wildlife on the farm but also the farm accounts.
Waiting for the sun
Our winter wheat and oilseed rape crops have developed well, and have spent a quiet period through much of February under the thin blanket of snow brought by the cold northerly winds.
The oilseed rape crops have received their fertiliser and with spring just around the corner, we expect the crop to grow rapidly when the warmer weather comes to Hope Farm.
The signs that spring is almost upon us are around the farm - with skylarks now singing setting up their territories, starlings investigating our nestboxes and a pair of collared doves already with one chick.
Getting to know your birds... individually
The latter part of the winter is recognised as crucial for so many birds - as natural food supplies diminish, as temperatures remain low and birds are trying to get into condition for the forthcoming breeding season.
To ensure that food is readily available, the staff at Hope Farm put out grain and other seeds around the farmyard. This attracts good flocks of yellowhammers, alongside sparrows and finches.
With house sparrows having such a hard time recently across the country, we are intensively monitoring our population. Birds are caught and individually ringed - with both a metal ring which is uniquely numbered and a unique combination of three coloured rings.
This allows us to get to know individual house sparrows and monitor their survival over winter. Research staff carry out intensive resighting periods of 18 hours in November, January and March. With 27 birds identified, we know our oldest surviving sparrow is over three years old.
Other bird highlights
In the last couple of months, we have seen a number of welcome visitors to the farm, whilst retaining good numbers of others.
Throughout the winter, the farm has hosted 100+ mixed flock of finches and buntings - originally on our whole field set-aside trial, the birds are making greater use of the rest of the farm.
Along with 20 snipe and 3 grey partridge, our set-aside field played host to a short-eared owl for a few days, whilst a woodcock somewhat surprisingly decided to lie low in one of our oilseed rape fields (that is until one of us walked past it!)