My rather muddy job of washing some of the soil samples I'd collected over the winter (to look at the amount of seed our wild bird cover has produced), was brightened up last week by some great views of a Red Kite drifting north over the farm. After a quick dash to get the "bins" from the office, it was noted that the bird had a white wing tag on the left wing and red or orange tag on the right wing, so undoubtedly a bird from the Rockingham Forest introduction project. One of my favourite birds in the world, and great to see over here in eastern England.
The last whole farm winter bird count was carried out in the week with c1300 individual birds of 39 species recorded on the farm including over 100 each of Linnet, Chaffinch and Starling and 50+ of Yellowhammer and Skylark as well as an impressive 30+ reed buntings. A few Fieldfare and Redwing were still around and a Chiffchaff was noted feeding near one of the farm ponds. Wintering waders sush as Snipe and Woodcock were absent and are probably heading back to their breeding grounds.
In the next couple of weeks, the summer monitoring season starts for both birds and butterflies. Its always an exciting time of year as its possible for passage birds to turn up and it will be interesting to see how the harsh winter weather has affected the number of birds holding territory on Hope Farm.
During the first ten years, the RSPB has achieved its core objective for Hope Farm, showing that increasing farmland bird populations could be achieved whilst running a profitable conventional arable farm. In fact, the results have far exceeded expectations. However, it remains clear that sadly this success is not being reflected nationally with the national Farmland Bird Indicator (FBI) best considered stable. There remains a need to export our farmland biodiversity success story so it can be translated into national increases. The Campaign for the Farmed Environment should help address this increasing the area of in field options such as wild bird cover, skylark plots and nectar mixtures.
To maximise the messages from Hope Farm we have spent the winter working on the next five year strategy, which has now successfully been taken through Board and Council. The aim is for the RSPB to expand the sites capacity to examine the developing areas of climate change and diffuse pollution, whilst continuing to build on the biodiversity successes of the last ten years, and maintaining agricultural productivity and economic returns.
In order to retain our relevance within the debate and continue to work towards our core objectives, it the Hope Farm strategy will incorporate the following four principles:
A) Maximising biodiversity
Farmland bird recovery remains a key objective for the RSPB. We are currently analysing land management decisions and bird population responses over the last 10 years to fully understand which factors have had the biggest impact on our FBI increases. This will evaluate the benefits of individual measures and assess which combination would give the most cost effective benefits in the widest range of arable scenarios. Future work will include develop agri-environment options that provide winter seed food for the "hungry gap" period - mid February to mid April as well as refining our farm management to encourage species that have failed to respond so far e.g. turtle dove and corn bunting.
B) Maintaining a profitable business
Day-to-day management decisions will continue to be given equal weight to the impacts on the economic return of the farm as to the enhancement of its environmental value. This philosophy will become even more essential with greater flexibility in commodity prices.
C) Responding to climate change
We will aim to reduce the farm's total greenhouse gas footprint by 15% within the next 5 years. We propose to develop and demonstrate measures to reduce the farm's greenhouse gas footprint in line with the proposed target for the agriculture sector. Emphasis will be placed on "lowering the carbon profile of commercial arable farming" by maximising food production per tonne of carbon.
D) Reducing diffuse pollution
Establish a robust baseline monitoring programme in consultation with conservation science, water and agricultural policy, to estimate current levels of nitrate, phosphate and soil particulate entering watercourses on Hope Farm. This programme will need to be extensive, incorporating regular and peak rainfall sampling.
Finally some dry and sunny weather has arrived here in Cambs. Last week saw a few interesting sightings with our Barn Owls being quite evident as the evenin. A Little Owl was also observed on the farm during the day too.
Around 60 Golden Plover were roosting on site in one of the wheat fields on the eve of 1st March, the same evening also saw 3-4 grey partridges being very vocal.
Four fly-over Mute Swans were the 59th species recorded on/from the farm since the turn of the year. I'm challenging myself to find 100 species on the farm by the end of 2010.