One of the real pleasures of working at Hope Farm is showing visitors around. Many of our visitors are specifically invited due to their areas of work, influence or interest such as the visit by Farming Minister George Eustice MP last autumn at a crucial time during negotiations about future agri-environment schemes.
George Eustice MP visiting Hope Farm in October 2014 (copyright: Amy Bell, Defra)
As crucial as that type of visit was some of the more enjoyable visits are those my groups of people who are just interested in what we do. A really great opportunity to do this is during Open Farm Sunday, a nationwide event run by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming). Over 400 farms opened their gates this year and were visited by over 250,000 people which is phenomenal success.
Abi Bunker explaining the importance of winter food provision to visitors during Open Farm Sunday at Hope Farm (copyright: Kathryn Smith)
Here at Hope Farm we ran our own Open Farm Sunday, the 2nd time we have done so recently. Last year we had 80 visitors, but this year this increased to a minimum of 350. We had guided farms tours, machinery display, bird ringing demonstration, nature treasure hunt, dragonfly hunt and livestock demonstration.
Visitors enjoying Katies' Pond during Open Farm Sunday at Hope Farm (copyright: Ellie Crane)
It was really fabulous seeing the farmyard and gardens to busy. There were people, and happy people, everywhere. While enjoying a burger from the barbeque or tea from our volunteer Mo, I got to chat to many of them. All of the comments were really positive and the comments on Twitter were also very positive. It certainly made all the work in setting the event up, and the time given by staff and volunteers, very worthwhile. Will we see you here at Open Farm Sunday in June 2016?
Today we had another group of visitors, but from a very different part of the world – Japan. Not only does Hope Farm help to demonstrate and influence wildlife friendly farming in the UK, it has done so across Europe and indeed the world. This is the 2nd visit I’ve had from Japan in the last 3 years. Today’s visitors were from the Ecosystem Conservation Society – Japan, and it was a delight to show them around. An interpreter helped with any language difficulties, but I suspect most spoke and understood English but were a little too shy. I think they went away with great ideas about how to work towards integrating management for wildlife into an intensively farmed landscape, both benefiting wildlife and the farm.
Ecosystem Conservation Society Japan visit to Hope Farm (copyright: RSPB)
I’ll be enjoying my Japanese chocolates tonight as I look back on the visits and events of the last couple of months, and think about those yet to come.
Much has been written about the growing disconnect between the increasingly urbanised population of the UK, where its food comes from and the wildlife in the countryside. For conservationists this is worrying. Wildlife may become less valued and the importance of protecting it may not be fully realised. Likewise the consequences of food production on wildlife may not be wholly appreciated.
The disconnect is worrying for farmers too. An increasing proportion of the population genuinely does not know where many items of food come from, or how they are grown. This may lead to the farming sector being underappreciated and undervalued as a crucial industry.
Image 1: The wheat harvest at Hope Farm in August 2012. Open Farm Sunday is a key opportunity to help the public re-connect with where their food comes from. (Andy Hay: rspb-images.com)
Open Farm Sunday on 7th June, which has been organized by LEAF since 2006, provides a great opportunity for farmers to open their gates and invite the public on to the farm, to see how crops are grown, how livestock are managed and how a farm is run.
Open Farm Sunday has developed into a major annual event with 207,000 people visiting 375 farms across the UK during the 2014 event. This varied from farms showing 10’s of people around, through to almost mini country shows attracting many thousands of visitors.
Here at Hope Farm in Knapwell, near Cambridge (CB23 4NR), we will also be taking part in Open farm Sunday. This is a fantastic chance to visit our farm, to see how we manage for wildlife alongside growing crops. There will be guided walks, bird ringing demonstration, small-scale sheep, pony and poultry demonstration, children’s activities including face painting, barbeque and generally a chance to see round a great wildlife friendly farm.
Image 2: Visitors to Hope Farm on Open Farm Sunday will be able to find out how the needs of farmland wildlife are combined with a profitable farm business (Andy Hay: rspb-images.com)
We will be open from 10:00 to 14:00, so please come along and visit us, or if you are too far away to do that consider visiting another farm on that weekend. Details of the other farms that are open on Open Farm Sunday can be found here, but do ask them what they are doing to protect and encourage wildlife on their farms!
By Ian Dillon (Hope Farm Manager)
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For the past four years, I have had the privilege of spending my summers carrying out breeding wader surveys in the Glenwherry area of the Antrim Hills. Our uplands often fail to get a mention when conservationists talk about ‘wetlands’ but that is exactly what they are and a wide range of wildlife depends upon these wet, rush covered pastures. It may come as a surprise that one of the factors restricting breeding wader productivity in Glenwherry (and in general) is a lack of easy access to wet muddy drains and pools, where birds such as lapwing forage for invertebrates. Come the late breeding season, fields can become dry and wader chicks may have to travel large distances in search of food, reducing their chances of survival.
Step forward Glenwherry farmers, who in the past four years have installed over 30 new scrapes to benefit breeding waders (with no financial incentive I might add). These have proved a resounding success not only for breeding waders but a surprising range of other species.
Wader scrapes are small (often no larger than 20m2) shallow scrapes in the ground which are intended to hold water long into the summer months. They are created using a digger to scrape off the surface layer of grass to expose the mud underneath, creating a shallow basin. This fills with water over winter and gradually recedes as the year progresses leaving wet muddy margins for wader chicks to feed in.
Image 1: Taken in October, this newly created wader scrape is deepest in the centre, ensuring it will remain wet well into the year. Scrapes are most successful when combined with habitat management such as rush control, as can be seen in the background. (Neal Warnock)
Image 2: Taken in early March, this scrape shows ideal water levels, with some muddy margins beginning to appear - much to liking of snipe. You can see their footprints in the mud. (Neal Warnock)
Image 3: Taken in early July. Even in the driest of summers, wader scrapes remain wet providing a vital lifeline to chicks in the late breeding season. This particular scrape was heavily used by a late brood of lapwing. (Neal Warnock).
Three sites which installed wader scrapes in autumn 2011 have seen the combined number of pairs increase from 10 that year, to 24 pairs in 2014. Snipe have been the main benefactor accounting for this increase. Furthermore, these scrapes are also a great attraction to overwintering snipe, with up to 40 birds recorded using a single scrape. The occasional jack snipe has also been noted.
Aside from breeding waders what else has been seen using the scrapes?
Each spring many scrapes burst into life with a chorus of croaking frogs and masses of frogspawn and by late April house martins can be seen collecting mud from their margins. In fact the first time I recorded this, I looked around and could not even see a suitable nesting building; these house martins were flying a considerable distance to and from their nest site, thus confirming my assertion that there was a lack of mud in the area!
Image 4: Common frogs can be found using scrapes for mating and spawning. (Neal Warnock).
Image 5: Masses of frogspawn can be found around scrape margins. (Neal Warnock).
Image 6: House martins require access to soft mud to build their nests. (Tom Marshall: rspb-images.com)
Another unexpected benefit has been to meadow pipits and skylarks that make use of the spoil from newly created scrapes which is spread out nearby creating small temporary plots of bare earth. This creates excellent feeding opportunities for these threatened farmland birds which thankfully are still plentiful in Glenwherry.
Moving away from birds, last summer I recorded my first damselflies in Glenwherry at a well established scrape. The species involved were blue-tailed damselfly and common blue damselfly. Could these and other species start colonising other scrapes, or could I possibly dream of recording a County Antrim rarity such as the variable damselfly?
Image 7: Common blue damselfly is an unexpected benefactor of newly created scrapes. (Neal Warnock).
Perhaps in a few years time I will be in the position to write another blog about the different kinds of surface dwelling invertebrates I see scuttling across the surface of the water, but at the moment I don’t a have a clue what they are! But I do know that creating a wader scrape is a simple, cost effective measure which enhances the opportunities for a wide range of upland species.
By Neal Warnock (RSPB Conservation Advisor, Northern Ireland).