Field of wheat

Delivering the Big Three

Farmland birds have three main needs if they are to survive and flourish.

What are the 'Big Three'?

The three main needs of farmland birds are:

  • A safe place to nest 
  • Food in spring and summer for their growing chicks 
  • Food and shelter over the winter

At Hope Farm, we have been able to provide all these habitats through careful use of our agri-environment scheme and good farming practice.

So how do we deliver the Big Three for yellowhammers at Hope Farm? The yellowhammer is one of the species that has responded positively to our management at Hope Farm, with 34 pairs recorded in 2017, compared with 14 in 2000 when we did our first surveys on the farm. Nationally this species has continued to decline by 25 per cent since 1995.

How has Hope Farm managed to go against the national trend?

Hope Farm has managed to increase the number against the national trend by aiming to provide each of the 'Big Three' essential requirements.

  • Nesting habitat: Yellowhammers nest on, or close to the ground in ditch vegetation or at the base of short thick hedgerows. At Hope Farm, we cut our hedges and ditches in rotation, once every three years, to produce improved nesting habitat. In addition, these hedges will produce 14 times the weight of berries compared with those trimmed annually, providing vital food for many birds, such as blackbirds and starlings. We have also started a programme of hedge laying to help improve nesting habitat.
  • Summer food: Insects are required to feed both chicks and adults throughout the summer. A network of wild flower margins, pollen and nectar margins, beetle banks and grass margins provides perfect habitats for many species of insects.
  • Winter food: This is essential if the yellowhammers are to survive during the winter. The over-winter cover crops and wild bird seed mixtures have provided valuable seed resources, especially cereal grain.
 Small scale trials of potential solutions to farmland bird decline before use in larger scale research trials or agri-environment scheme options at RSPB Hope Farm