Demonstration Farm Sees Dramatic Increases in Farmland Birds
Hope Farm is a demonstration farm in Cambridgeshire which is overseen by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The RSPB has been managing the nature friendly farm since 2000 and has instituted various environmentally friendly agricultural practices. Wildlife monitoring has now revealed that the project is achieving spectacular results.
Threatened Birds and Butterflies
Threatened ‘Red List’ farmland birds such as linnet and skylark, have declined nationally by more than 50 percent in recent years. This troubling situation is the result of modern agricultural practices involving the removal of field margins and hedgerows together with planting strategies which provide no winter stubbles for birds.
There are now various stewardship schemes which encourage farmers to manage their land in a nature friendly ways via the provision of subsidies. Whilst there is some debate about the global effectiveness of these schemes, there is now little doubt that they deliver the desired results at a local level. Hope Farm is no exception.
Thriving Birds and Butterflies
Record numbers of birds and insects have been recorded at the farm this year. Birds have increased three-fold since 2017 and the number of butterflies has increased by an impressive 213%. Several species which were completely absent in 2000 have started breeding on the farm, including grey partridge, lapwing and corn bunting. 24 species of butterfly have been observed at the site.
Every summer, the birds and butterflies are surveyed so that progress can be monitored. The RSPB are delighted that such significant improvements have been achieved in such a short period of time. However, the numbers of birds and butterflies nationally continue to decline and are now rather alarming.
So how has Hope Farm managed to gain such amazing results in just a few years?
New Agricultural Practices
The farm actually isn’t that different to many small arable farms. Just 10% of the agricultural land is managed for wildlife with the assistance of environmental schemes which support farmers. The remaining 90% of the land is planted with cereal crops including wheat, barley and oilseed rape.
The simple measures which have been employed to help wildlife include the establishment of wild flower margins around fields, the sowing of "bird cover" to provide food for seed-eating species and the allowing of hedgerows to thicken. Hedgerows provide a safe nesting habitat for many species and help all wildlife at the farm. The new measures are, in fact, a return to more traditional methods of arable farming.
The efforts at Hope Farm demonstrate that it is possible to create a profitable agricultural operation whilst also helping farmland wildlife to thrive. There is much more to do nationally and internationally to recover what has become a troubling situation. We need many more farms with nature friendly practices if we are to enable all species to recover to the levels seen in the early years of the last century. Every little helps!