Close up of wheat

Chris Dowse

Chris Dowse

I am the Estate Manager of Sir Richard Sutton’s Settled Estates in north Lincolnshire. Hall Farm is mainly arable, with sheep and a herd of Lincoln Red cattle. It is also a LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Demonstration Farm.

The bird life includes virtually all of the farmland specialities found in the area - grey partridges, lapwings, barn owls, turtle doves, tree sparrows and corn buntings. Amongst the more common species are skylarks, song thrushes, linnets, reed buntings and yellowhammers.

We have supported all of these species using agri-environment schemes to enhance the farm habitats. The added bonus is that I can justify every agri-environment scheme option on the basis that it not only delivers for target species but it also delivers financially for me as a farmer.

Our hedgerows are managed on a three-year rotation to provide nesting habitat for a wide range of species, and we have lots of rough grass field margins next to them for the gamebirds.

Lapwings nest in our spring crops, but we are also trying to use summer fallow plots for them to nest on. With the new Entry Level Stewardship Scheme, we will try the ‘skylark plot’ option to provide better nesting habitat for them in our winter cereals. This is the only arable option in the new scheme which we are not already doing!

We have a wide range of habitats that provide insect food for birds through the summer. Most spectacular, are our pollen and nectar mixtures that are literally humming with insect life, including four species of bumblebee and masses of butterflies throughout the summer.

Seed-eating birds are provided for through the winter by stubbles that we leave until the spring, and wild bird cover that includes mixes of plants that provide seed food. 

It is very clear to us that the habitats we have created are benefiting the species that we have. We have seen a rise in grey partridges and lapwings, amongst others. 

We provide nesting boxes for barn owls and 29 young owls have been ringed on the farm this year.

I am very keen to work with the RSPB and other conservation organisations to get the best deal for wildlife on the farm whilst maintaining the profitability of the farming business.