Despite the driest January on record, we have been busy creating our new wet features at the farm. Created by broadening and constructing bunds in some of our watercourses and ditches, we aim not only to improve the feeding opportunities for a range of key farmland birds like yellow wagtails and reed buntings but also assess their value in tackling issues of diffuse pollution.
Nitrates and phosphates added to fields in February and March as fertiliser can sometimes contaminate watercourses and we are keen to see if these features can help remove this by plants like reeds using the nitrates for growth and allow the phosphates to settle attached to soil particles.
Given the relatively cheap cost of producing these, it is hoped that this will be another management technique which has been identified at Hope Farm to the benefit of farmers, wildlife and the wider public.
Getting back onto the fields
January and February are quiet months here at Hope Farm from the farming point of view. The latter part of February has seen the application of fertiliser to our oilseed rape crops, whilst our wheat crops are well advanced in their development so we will assess the need for a fertiliser application soon.
Also, we will be ploughing in our spring beans, once the soil is sufficiently dry. These will be planted in two fields, the largest of which is 27 hectares and which we hope may be attractive enough to entice lapwings to breed.
Regardless of this, the benefits of the spring bean crop will be a nesting habitat for yellow wagtails and skylarks, reduced farm bills as there is no need to apply fertiliser to beans (they have nodules on their roots which fix nitrogen from the atmosphere), and help in our weed control without the need to resort to purely chemical applications.
Spring drawing near...
Despite snow flurries in the latter part of February, the bird populations are showing signs that spring is around the corner. Most notably, our skylarks are becoming territorial across the farm, being a regular feature singing high in the sky above our wheat fields (which all contain skylark plots).
Also our grey partridges have begun to pair up. Increasingly instead of seeing a small flock, the birds are being found in pairs amongst our set-aside trials areas and our oilseed rape. We are hopeful that the tussocky grass and wildflower margins will provide the incentive needed to stay and breed as they did last year.
One group (literally) which has yet to disperse around the farm are our finches and buntings. We still have up to 140 yellowhammers, plus 80 chaffinches and reed buntings feeding at the farm.
The new year saw the arrival of some new nestboxes, for barn owls and kestrels. As we have improved the habitats around the farm since its purchase, the increase in population of small mammals has been noticeable. As a result we have attracted the attentions of both barn owls and kestrels, so to help these birds we have placed boxes around the farm. Time will tell if they take up residence in these new homes we have provided. Fingers crossed.