Sowing the keys of change

Yellowhammer (Mark Pearson)

Yellowhammer (Mark Pearson)

Anyone who has been birding since the 1970’s will have noticed the lower numbers of ganivorous (seed-eating) farmland birds such as Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting in the wider countryside. One factor which has contributed to the fall in numbers is the decline in available over-winter seed for these birds. During the past ten years, Countryside Stewardship schemes managed by Natural England have offered farmers financial incentives to sow special seed mixes on farms. These ‘wild bird crops’ are left over the winter, providing a large seed bank for many birds.

The northern Yorkshire Wolds from Langtoft through Burton Flemming to Humble-bee Farm are one of the last strongholds for Corn Bunting in East and North Yorkshire. The sound of jangling keys is still commonly heard in this area and it’s not unusual to see flocks of over 50 birds in autumn. This area is only five miles from Filey, but Corn Buntings have become increasingly rare in our recording area.

Juvenile Skylark (Mark Pearson)

Juvenile Skylark (Mark Pearson)

Having heard a lot about the conservation crops at Humble-bee Farm we decided to meet the farmer John Warters early in 2016 to see the range of habitats he has created. By sowing a wide strip of wild bird crops containing cereal plants such as Triticale, John provides seed through the winter. Adjacent to this is a strip of nectar plants sown with species such as Phacelia and Clover. These habitats provide a fantastic source of pollen for insects in the summer and much needed invertebrate food for Buntings to feed their chicks on. They also ensure a safe nesting area, crops where the combine harvester cannot go! By planning the wild bird mix and nectar mix next to each other John has provided both summer and winter food in the same field.

Barn Owl (Mark Pearson)

Barn Owl (Mark Pearson)

The FBOG conservation team have been working on an area of The Tip with the hope of attracting more seed eating birds back to the area. As custodian famers, we have a duty to try and provide as much quality habitat as possible. In a similar way to the successful areas at Humble-bee Farm we have planned a mixture of wild bird crops and nectar plants with each seed mix split into its own area. Between the seed mixes and the hedgerows will be a margin of rough grassland for birds and other wildlife such as Hares to shelter in.
With hard work and investment in this project we hope to not only attract greater numbers of local Buntings but maybe a rarer one as well!….

Richard Baines & the FBOG Conservation Team