You can’t be a farmer without talking about the weather. Articles in the farming press this week look at how the crop yields across Britain will fare in this prolonged dry period. At Hope Farm a minor miracle happened in the last week when we had some rain. Admittedly it was just 6 mm but it is better than nothing. This brings our total over the last two months to about 12mm well short of what we would like. The cracks in the ground are impressive. If this dry weather continues we can expect an early harvest and low yields. The lack of rain has left us with some difficult management decisions including how much nitrogen to apply and when; when to apply the fungicides to the wheat and whether to apply another insecticide to the spring beans. The most prolonged discussion was about the nitrogen. The contractor and agronomist finally agreed that it was sensible to reduce the amount we applied during our second application to account for the lack of rain. We have also delayed sowing some grass margins, these will probably be established in the autumn now.
Birds & Wildlife
We are now about half way through the breeding season. It is far too early to be definitive about the final numbers what I can say is it looks encouraging. Probably the most exciting records are two pairs of Corn Bunting regularly using our fallow plot trials. This is a species we identified as a key target within the new strategy primarily because they have only breed once, in 2001, on Hope Farm. Hopefully they will now settle to breed soon. Corn Buntings are one species which RSPB are currently researching because the numbers continue to fall across the country. They only start breeding in early June. This is a lot later than the majority of farmland species, for example skylark’s which start in April. We believe that this is one factor in their decline. Our research is trying to find solutions that will extend the breeding season and we are working with farmers to manage specially created areas.
Away from the excitement of the Corn Buntings there are other great stories. We will break our previous starling records with 20 pairs in nest boxes this year with 92 chicks individually colour ringed this year. This is a remarkable 50% increase in chicks from last year. By individually marking the nestlings using a unique combination of colour rings it allows us to monitor where they feed and how long they live. Monitoring our starling population forms part of our grassland research on the farm. Migrants including our swallows, whitethroats and turtle dove all arrived several weeks earlier this year than last, it will be interesting to see how many we have recorded by the end of the breeding season.
Two weeks ago John Craven and the Countryfile team were at the farm filming a piece with Martin Harper, RSPB’s new director of Conservation. The piece talks about farmland bird declines and whether predators are the central cause for their declines. The piece went out last Sunday.
This will be last post as farm manager before I move to Scotland as the RSPB’s Advisory Manager for Scotland. I have been very lucky to have been manager of this project for the last 5 years. Thanks to our members, farmers and colleagues for their continued support throughout my time.