Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Worms Eye View

With the dry spell of weather over the past few weeks, the land has been drying out which has allowed us to get onto the fields and start working on our spring campaign.  We have started ploughing some of the light land inpreparation for planting salad onions in about 4 weeks time.  Ploughing now should allow a nice germination of weeds before the onions are planted, reducing the cost of weed killers (herbicides) and actually being able to control some certain weeds, like groudsel.
Derek was ploughing in this field, Lynch Piece, and was almost immediately joined by about 50 lapwings looking for all the tasty worms and insects that were being turned onto the surface.  A tasty snack, unless you are the worm!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Conservation Grade Student

Yesterday I travelled to Royston in Hertfordshire for an Induction Day into becoming a farmer growing 'Conservation Grade' milling wheat for this years harvest. The training took place at Thrift Farm and is owned by Robert Law Robert has been one of the pioneers of Conservation Grade (CG) cereals, growing Oats for Jordans and as one of the 80 or so CG, growers has dedicated 10% of the arable area of the farm to wildlife.
The day started with an induction about CG from Brin Hughes about how the organisation started and what the aims are.  In a nutshell the idea is to grow food for people and wildlife on the same farm, whilst getting a premium from the customer for the nature friendly production methods (very important!)  In essence the farm needs to provide varying degrees of habitat and food sources for different insects, mammals and birds made up of specific types.  4% must be in Pollen and Nectar Mixes, 2% on Wild Bird Food, 2% in fine tussocky grasses and the final 2% in other habitats, such as hedgerows, ditches, watercourses, woodland and ponds.  These percentages work in nicely for us with our Higher Level Stewardship Agreement.  A farm map is also needed to help the assessor when being audited, once a year.  Within two years there is a habitat assessment to ensure all of the habitats we say we've planted have been done and managed accordingly.
We had a great talk by Peter Thompson from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust all about habitat selection for targets species.  First you need to know what species you have then you need to sort out the habitats.  Where to sight them, what to grow in the them, how to establish them and their following management.  All these snippets of information are so valuable when trying to plan these additions around the farm landscape. As Robert said "its easier to manage 500 acres of wheat than 60 acres of bird food".  I think that sums up the philosophy of these guys willing to go the extra mile for conservation and taking pride in the food that they grow, for people and wildlife.
We saw one of Roberts new barn Owl Boxes and heard about the Nature Friendly Owls project.  These birds are at the top of the food chain on our farms and if they are thriving then its a very good sign that those below them are also doing very well indeed.  In all I had a great day and I am looking forward to working with these farmers in the future, which can only be good for our business and also for our wildlife.  I can't help thinking that there are so many similarities and passions that CG farmers have with LEAF Farmers that there isn't some way of linking the two organisations together in some way?  We'll as the nubie of the group I'll leave that one quietly on the back burner for now, but leave you with a quote from Sir David Bellamy.
 "It's not just nature that benefits from Conservation Grade, we all do.  We see more birds and more bees and hear more buzzing and bird song.  On these farms we can start to enjoy the countryside again".  Keep watching and listening to hear how we get on.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Bustling Bramblings

For about the last 6 weeks or so we have had a great flock of LBJ's (Little Brown Jobs) feeding on one of our Higher level Stewardship bird food mixes.  The plot is quite large which is great for these smaller birds offering lots of protection, hidden away in the middle of their very own dinner table.  The size of the block (5acres) is also able to sustain larger numbers of birds for longer periods of time which is another benefit, so they're not using up energy searching out their next meal.  There is also less 'edge effect' of reduced seed yield, usually caused by rabbits nibbling away at the edges.
This mixture consists of Spring barley (60%), Tricticale (15%), Millet (10%), Fodder Raddish (5%) and Mustard (10%), although due to the dry summer when the crop was planted there seems to be a greater percentage of mustard that has survived!
The vast majority of these birds are Bramblings although there are a few Linnets and Chaffinches joining in the flock.  Having walked through the crop to take some video footage here of the flock swooping around there is still some seed left that has not shed yet so I hope that this bird table will continue to deliver the goods for a few weeks to come, while the winter weather is upon us.