Saturday, 18 July 2009

Farmers To The Rescue

A very apt farm visit this week, especially after the announcement that the CLA/NFU backed voluntary scheme is the now the one favoured by Minister Hilary Benn to be the replacement for the old Set-A-Side scheme. The farm is in deepest brightest Somerset and is 1000 acre mostly arable farm run by Henry Lang and his brother. Both share a huge passion for farming and for wildlife which really shines through.
Along side the cash crop of the large arable fields are wide margins of rough rank wild grasslands, this is part of DEFRA's higher level stewardship scheme. Walking along these margins I stop Henry and gasped at the massive number of Butterflies flying up in front of me, the scene was more reminiscent of central Europe and certainly not England. Bee's of various species were also on good show, and with just Bee's and Butterflies this would have been good enough for me as proof of the value of these margins, but it got better.
A bird singing caught my ear, and not one but more and more joined in from the hedgerow along side the margin. The song sounded like the bird was saying "a little bit of bread and no cheese" Many country folk would recognise this song as the song of the Yellowhammer, which has declined so much in the UK that now it is afforded a red list status on the BCC list (Bird Of Conservation Concern). Henry has erected 8 barn Owl boxes throughout his farm, and it was these boxes that I was here to check. The take up of these boxes by barn Owl would be totally reliant on the bio-diversity quality of Henry's grassland margins as this is would be the only areas were the Owls could catch their primary food source the Short-tailed Vole.
Of the 8 boxes checked, 5 of them had barn Owls in them, with 3 of those having actual active nests. The other 3 boxes were, 2 = empty and the other 1 had an active Stock Doves nest.

Above is a picture of Henry with an 8 week old barn Owlet, just after I had rung/banded it, ring number GC74933, this first nest had 3 Owlets around the same age. The second active nest had three young also, yet much younger than the first as these were around 3 weeks with the youngest too young to have ring placed on it. Picture below is of a by now a very proud Henry with the 2 that were old enough to ring.

The third active nest had both parents in the boxes and the female was incubating 4 eggs (so far).
So of the three nests that were active then at the first the young were nearly ready to fledge, then the second nest was a month behind the first, leaving the last nest with eggs probably a month or even more behind the second, what a strange season, climate change?
The boxes that Henry had provided were real top quality, but not just the workmanship also his careful thought of where to put them, this must be highlighted. In the picture above is one the Owlets branched, yet very safe in this old English Oak. The box was placed in the crown of the tree with the owlets having safe access to the whole tree without the risk of falling to the ground and being eaten by Foxes. A massive well done should be said to Henry and to everyone that's involved with this farm, as it shows what can be done for whole bio-diversity by number and species, and that this type of farming really should be used as an example of the care towards wildlife that farmers really do show. I would far rather my tax went on schemes like this than buying duck ponds or cleaning moats for our MP's.
Thanks Henry for a great day, and what a brilliant take up of your barn Owls boxes and showing me how farming and wildlife really can go together.


Jenny Holden said...

What a fabulous result! Well worth the hard work I'm sure! Lots of voles up here, though I'm not in the ringing loop yet. Certain other organisations are crying wolf as they reliably do every year!

Chris Sperring said...

Hi Jen good to hear from you. How's the Beavers? There are good Vole numbers here too, just seems they had a slow start due to surpressed grass growth caused by a cooling off the climate during Spring :) Its now very wet and very cool here at the moment, seems like Summer is fast decending into Fall. Hope the weathers better in Scotland.