Close up of wheat

John Atkinson

John Atkinson

Pyes Bridge Farm near Milnthorpe, Cumbria, is a small lowland mixed arable, beef and sheep farm situated close to the border with Lancashire. The farm has species-rich grassland, wet grassland and also grows with a variety of spring sown cereals and potatoes.

The farm is made up of small and medium-sized, irregularly-shaped fields surrounded by mature and diverse hedgerows. The way the land is being farmed provides valuable breeding habitat for a wide variety of farmland birds such as yellowhammers, tree sparrows, reed buntings, skylarks, lapwings and curlews, and brown hares are always present on the farm.

In winter flocks of linnets, skylarks and tree sparrows feed on the weedy stubbles and a variety of wintering waders and wildfowl can always be seen on the flooded wet grassland.

The farm came out of Organic Entry Level Stewardship and into Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) in 2010 and has been farmed extensively for many years.

John chose HLS options which suit this style of farming and maximise the areas of wet grassland on the farm. He is hoping to increase the number of breeding waders and farmland birds on his farm and protect the landscape character of the area. John is also keen to restore the hedges on the farm by gapping up and laying them himself in the traditional way.

As part of the HLS agreement, John made and put up lots of nestboxes around the farm. Some of these were being used by tree sparrows within days!

John has worked closely with Richard Storton, RSPB Morecambe Wetland Advisor, who found that John had voluntarily left a large strip of the low-input spring cereal unharvested next to a hedgerow. This strip was busy with feeding tree sparrows, yellowhammers and reed buntings and will provide extra winter food on top of what would be there in the weedy winter stubbles.

Needless to say, he was delighted that they had taken that extra step for nature, above and beyond what they were already doing.