Cropping

The beautiful snowy weather at the start of February has now thawed leaving the fields extremely wet and muddy. Undoubtedly this will delay our farming operations this spring and it will require several weeks of dry weather before we are able to sow our spring beans. We have managed to complete the planned hedge cutting during February. We aim to cut our hedges predominately on a three-year rotation to provide a variety of hedge heights and widths.

Trimming on a three-year rotation rather than annually boosts the berry crops available for wintering birds and populations of insects. Other work planned for spring will include re-establishing some of our wild bird cover and pollen and nectar mixtures once the weather improves.

The wheat and oilseed rape established well and the weather has not affected them. Broadcasting the oilseed rape, rather than using minimum tillage has paid dividend this winter with the crops significantly more advanced than the majority of the minimum tilled crops in the surrounding area. Our only headache is keeping the large flocks of woodpigeons off the crop.

Farmland Bird Index

There has been a lot of discussion in the farming press about the small decline in the Hope Farm farmland bird index. It is of course disappointing that the numbers did not continue to rise, however what has been ignored by farming groups is since the RSPB purchased the site, the farmland bird population has doubled against a backdrop of national declines.

The RSPB is proud of the results achieved at Hope Farm where we have been able to show that measures to increase bird numbers do not have to be at the expense of either yield or profitability. This has been largely achieved by using a simple mix of options within Entry Level Scheme to provide the “Big three” – nesting habitat, summer and winter food.

To find out about providing the big three for farmland birds, visit: www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/farming/advice/

Bird highlights

The February winter bird count recorded good numbers of 151 skylarks, 30 linnets and 21 grey partridges. The linnets were observed feeding on spilt charlock seed from last year's harvest. The most unusual bird recorded on the count was a woodcock. We also recorded three bramblings, feeding with a flock of chaffinches, on seed put out during the snow.

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