As the breeding season of 2005 draws to a close, our monitoring has shown that it has been another great year for breeding birds at Hope Farm.
Measured using the Farmland Bird Index, a nationally recognised measure of breeding bird trends on farmland, our populations have increased by a massive 56% in just the six years since purchasing the farm.
This is of course against a backdrop of national populations having shown little improvement from their worryingly low levels.
The highlights this year has been the continued increase in skylark numbers, now up to 34 pairs (from 10 in 2000), a doubling of yellowhammers to 28 pairs (from 14 in 2000), linnet numbers up to 16 pairs (from 6 in 2000), along with three pairs of grey partridges and many other species.
All of these species will have been helped by the provision of habitats in 2005 available under the new Entry Level Scheme as well as our trial work, providing their critical nesting and feeding needs.
Harvest at Hope Farm was completed with mixed results. Fortunately, we were able to harvest all our crops in dry weather, so we didn't have a repeat of the extremely wet weather of August 2004.
We grew wheat and oilseed rape this year. Wheat yields were fairly consistent across the farm, with first wheats 'Claire' and 'Robigus' varieties yielding 9.83t/ha (c.4t/acre) whilst our second wheats ('Consort') achieved a respectable 8.8t/ha (3.56t/acre).
Our oilseed rape (a variety called Pollen) yielded 2.5t/ha (1t/acre), which was disappointing compared to previous yields. The crop was established by autocasting rather than drilling. This involves broadcasting the oilseed rape seed into the previous standing wheat field (autumn 2004) and using the straw to cover the seed and provide a mulch. Although some fields grew a fairly uniform crop, others were more gappy with bare areas in some fields.
Despite this, the saving we made of over £120 per hectare in growing the crop in this way and the environmental benefits of retaining the stubble overwinter (rather than ploughing it in), means that we will continue with this method of growing our rape this way for harvest 2006.
For the first time, the combines this year had new yield mapping technology.
This builds up a picture of the field assessing as it moves across the field which areas were the best and worst yielding.
Over time this will provide a valuable insight into where it is worth growing a crop (where yields are consistently high) and where using the agri-environment schemes can best maximise our returns - financially and environmentally.
Financial results for 2004 now in
Having received payment for the last batch of the crop from harvest 2004 sold, we are now able to assess our financial performance.
This shows that we were able to sell our crops for just under £88,000, which in addition to our subsidy payment provided an income of just under £130,000 from our cropped land.
Having cost us just over £78,500 to grow the crops and dry them (after a wet harvest period), this gives us a difference of £50,623.06. Under the agreement with our neighbouring farmer, our 'contractor' who carries out all the farm operations for us, we receive a 'fixed return' of £35,607.60 as the landowner. The difference, £15,015.46, is then split on a 23%: 77% basis in favour of our contractor.
Coupled with our income and expenditure from the small grassland areas of the farm, the farm provided us a net return to the RSPB of £37,967.99. This is a little lower than previous years, as a result most notably of inclement weather, causing the oilseed rape to fail (and have to be replaced by beans) and the prolonged wet period during harvest meaning we incurred the additional cost of having to dry the crops prior to sale.
Our Management Accounts are independently assessed by Smiths Gore.