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!
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?
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