Yesterday we took a virtual wander though spring and summer on Lower Pertwood Farm, and the challenges and opportunities faced by the important population of corn buntings on the farm. You can read it here if you missed it. Today, we head through autumn and into winter to find out how the farm management is helping these birds to survive through to next spring. 

Autumn

October and November sees the ploughing of a few fields to put in winter oats, but the vast majority of the farm’s arable area is managed as over-winter stubbles. These provide brilliant feeding areas for the corn buntings and many other farmland birds. Indeed the corn buntings are hard to count at this time of year. They have so much habitat and food that they are widely spread across the farm. Some species, like linnets, choose to be in flocks most of the time when they are not breeding, and there can be flocks of up to 500 birds present at this time of year.

Winter

December and January are variable months weather-wise in Wiltshire. Some years they are very cold, others can be quite mild.  If there is a cold winter with significant laying snow, the areas of wild bird cover on the farm become even more important for corn buntings. In case of such weather, the sweepings from the grain store are all safely stored away along with the tailings from cleaning the oats, post harvest.

As February starts we move into the hungry gap again, as food supplies are diminished elsewhere through the ploughing-in of Environmental Stewardship stubbles, or a reduction in supplementary feeding post shooting season. At this time, Lower Pertwood becomes ever more important.  

As stubbles slowly disappear, the birds have a brief bonanza feeding on the seeds brought to the surface, but they then flock up onto the remaining habitat. This is when the farm puts out the tailings kept from last years harvest, and it is possible to get full counts of the number of birds present.

The total in February 2016 was in excess of 350 corn bunting, again around 2% of the UK population

So that’s a year for the corn buntings at Lower Pertwood. It certainly feels like a new dawn for them, rather than the sun setting on corn buntings in the UK!

Image: Nick Adams

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