Blooming good news for farmland birds at Northward Hill
30 August 2012
An acre of RSPB Northward Hill is awash with sunflowers, a coup for the birds and the bees. The spectacle is the brainchild of Simon Ginnaw, a 23 year old resident of Bearsted close to the North Kent Marshes.
Simon won a two-month paid position at RSPB Northward Hill through the Vodafone Foundation World of Difference UK programme. Simon had completed six months as a residential volunteer on the nature reserve gaining practical experience in wildlife management and the Vodaphone funding enabled him to undertake an exciting new project for the site.
Simon said, “I have always been passionate about farmland birds, they are in sharp decline and farmers can do something about that. RSPB Northward Hill is a farm as well as a nature reserve so I thought I would practise what we preach and the benefits will be worthwhile to the birds, the public, and demonstrate for farmers what is achievable.”
Simon and his fellow residential volunteers ploughed up one acre of grazing meadow and planted 25kg of a special plant mix. The sunflowers, red millet, mustard, barley and kale all flower and seed at slightly different times, providing food for pollinating insects (vital to the neighbouring orchards) and to seed-eating birds; known as a ‘cover crop’ it has year-round benefits.
Simon said, “The sunflowers were up first, and the mass of insects has attracted hunting little owls and whitethroats into the field. The seed heads will keep the rare corn bunting and skylark through the winter and attract all the other finches and hopefully rarities such as yellowhammer, tree sparrow and migrants like the brambling and Lapland bunting. By spring next year, the remnant seeds on the ground will be attractive to turtle doves. The kale provides shelter to birds from the elements and predators as it remains in leaf through the winter.”
Simon completed his academic studies last year, a graduate of Countryside Management, with an MSc in Conservation and Forestry from Imperial College, London.
“I have always dreamed of being a wildlife ranger, and the RSPB and Vodafone Foundation enabled me to gain knowledge and new skills and I have now been appointed the Country Park Ranger for Capstone and Riverside Countryside Parks in the Medway towns.”
Visitors can enjoy Simon’s field at the Wildlife and Countryside Fair held at RSPB Northward Hill on September 9th, the inspiration for a ‘Sunflower Trail’ around the reserve that includes a wide range of wildlife activities for all the family.