During the last month, RSPB has been celebrating the first ten years of Hope Farm. In this piece I will reflect on what the RSPB has learnt from the project, highlighting some of the key stories.

1) Increase in Farmland bird numbers

Obviously I need to start by looking at the results of our farmland bird surveys. In just 10 years, we have seen a steady rise in numbers of arable farmland birds breeding at Hope Farm with the overall numbers 177% higher than in 2000. Some of the key species are

Skylarks - increasing from 10 pairs in 2000 to 44 in 2009.

Linnet - increasing 6 pairs in 2000, 36 in 2009

Yellowhammer - increasing 14 pairs in 2000, 39 in 2009

Grey Partridge - 0 pairs in 2000, 5 pairs in 2009

How have we done this? By providing the big three - essentially providing a safe place to nest, summer insect food and winter seed food. You can learn more about how we deliver this concept at http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/farming/hopefarm/bigthree.asp

The research staff have just finished the breeding bird surveys for 2010 which will be reported in later postings on the blog.

2) Skylark Plots

Who would have thought that leaving small 4x4m bare areas (skylark plots) in winter wheat, could help Skylarks. Research at Hope Farm showed that these plots could increase the nesting opportunities producing up to 50% more chicks. Find out more about skylark plots by following  http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/farming/advice/details.asp?id=222883

3) It's more than just birds!!

We have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to call on staff and volunteers able to monitor a range of other wildlife. This program has included butterflies, moths, dragonflies, surface and crop dwelling insects, small mammals and bats. To me the results are just as interesting as the bird research. So far we have recorded more than 350 moth species, 150 plants, 450 fungi, 100 spiders. We are adding new species all the time just last week one of my colleagues saw a white-letter hairstreak butterfly feeding on one of our pollen and nectar mixtures - another first for the farm.

4) Owning an arable farm

Owning and managing our own arable farm has been very valuable experience for the RSPB. We have learnt a lot about growing crops, their pests and diseases. Food production is essential but with careful planning we have shown that it is possible to increase farm wildlife without affecting the economic return to the RSPB. Day-to-day cropping and environmental decisions are given equal weight to maximise the economic return to the farm. This philosophy is essential if we wish to influence the farming community.

 5) Demonstrating the true value of conservation

When the farm was purchased, a key aim was to be able to demonstrate that farming in ways that protect and enhance the countryside is possible. Over the past ten years, the farm has attracted a huge number of visitors. As a commercial enterprise, one of the priorities for the farm is to show farmers the practical implications of our work, but it does not stop there. Policy-makers, farm advisors and farming organisations are just a few of the people who have an influence on the day-to-day management decisions taken by farmers. Finally I can't forget our members, without your fantastic contributions we would not have bought the site in the first place.

Lets Hope the next ten years are equally succesful.