The RSPB bought Hope Farm ten years ago. Our aim was to manage a bog-standard arable farm (in Cambridgeshire) as a commercial farm but at the same time to increase its bird numbers. And it has worked!
I'm glad it has worked because it felt as though we were sticking our necks out quite a long way - what if we didn't increase bird numbers? wouldn't we have looked foolish? Well, perhaps, but the results have been very impressive.
Over ten years, most of the bird species used by the government in an index of the ecological health of the countryside have increased in numbers at Hope Farm - and wheat yields have increased too.
But one species has been a complete failure and another has been frustrating. The failure has been the house sparrow - we started with eight pairs around the farmyard but now have only one. This is puzzling as other similar species have done so well. The frustrating species has been the corn bunting - one pair nested on the farm in the second year (and we thought we were made!) but none since. And this is despite the fact that there are corn buntings just down the road from the farm (I often see them on telegraph wires as I drive to or from the farm) and they are frequent winter visitors - it's just that they don't settle down to breed.
Having admitted our disappointment and failure, the list of successes is long. Lapwing, turtle dove, grey partridge and yellow wagtail have all returned to nest on the farm - we started with no grey partridges but in year five we had our first pair and now there are five.
But skylarks, linnets and yellowhammers have increased from 10, 6 and 14 pairs to 44, 33 and 39 pairs respectively. Those are big increases and all have been achieved largely through sensible use of the agri-environment schemes which are available to all farmers in England (and in different forms, in Wales, Northern Irleand and Scotland too). And have been achieved with no predator control (see yesterday's blog).
What has happened at Hope Farm could happen on many other farms across the country if farmers sign up to agri-environment schemes, choose the right management options and get the right advice. The NFU and CLA Campaign for the Farmed Environment (which we support!) is trying to turn lots of farms across the countryside into Hope Farms - and we hope that it works because it isn't that difficult really!
Barry - thanks!
The surrounding land use is pretty similar to Hope farm - mostly arable farms wgrowing winter wheat as the main crop. Poor hedgerows, large fields. The type of intensively farmed arable land where you wouldn't normally expect to find lots of birds.
There are a few livestock on a neighbouring farm but not many in the area.
I wouldn't say that we have influenced our neighbours very much. And there isn't much serious predator control for miles. A few pot-shots at foxes and crows is all - I imagine.
So - not very different from many farms in eastern England - and therefore these results are very replicable elsewhere.
Congratulations on an excellent demonstration project. Its value is much higher than its cost.
Part of its success must be down to the surrounding land use and the wildlife populations in it.
What is the land use, have you managed to influence your neighbours and what is their level of predator control?"
Bordercollie - thank you! and Woof!
Sooty - thanks for those strong views. Much appreciated. We are working with lots of farmers but it is surely good news that money exists to help pay for (or at least defray the costs of) a bit extra management specifically for birds. I think that agri-environment schemes do work for birds and other wildlife (they could work better but that's always the case) and, as a taxpayer, I am perfectly happy that a farmer can access my money to help him or her do some good for the wildlife that I love (and that he or she may well love too) rather than that farmer having to pick up the bill. That's surely all OK?
Thanks for the very interseting report & great to have some good news. Always enjoy your blog.
Really good blog Mark and I agree lots of farms could be similar to Hope Farm which to me seems sad as I feel sure if you got your message across lots would take parts of it on board.Where I am afraid you always go completely wrong(I was in one so can tell you absolutely accurately)is this nonsense about the answer being agri-environment schemes all they do is provide a bit of income for a massive amount of form filling.I could never find one thing that I had to do on the scheme that helped birds one bit and in some cases would be ant-social and harm the environment but then what do farmers know.I doubt if any of these schemes ever ask for farmers input.WHAT YOU NEED TO DO IS CHANGE FARMERS VIEWS which will do far more good than schemes.Unfortunately no one has found a way to engage farmers with a view to better wildlife on farms and GETTING IT ACROSS.Lots of experts seem to think lets depend on rubbish schemes and criticise farmers that will do the trick and then send people round to enforce these schemes with people born in other country's.FANTASTIC, PROBLEM SOLVED.SORRY CAN'T PUT IT ANY PLAINER MARK RSPB AND DEFRA NOT GETTING RIGHT INFORMATION AND ATTITUDE TO FARMERS WHO ARE ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY IN CONTROL OF WHAT HAPPENS ON ALL OF THE COUNTRYSIDE.Rules and laws won't do a bit of good as an example say someone who commits say awful crimes only gets community service which of course he never serves so what punishment is a farmer going to get for a minor infringement on his own land.Do you remember a few days ago a farmer commented on your blog saying he didn't belong in any schemes but had open days on his farm where RSPB recruited lots of new members.Must be a perfect example but you do take a lot of convincing.Of course some farmers in these schemes improve wildlife but they would without the scheme so another complete red herring.
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