Blogger: Emily Field, RSPB Volunteer & Farmer Alliance Team

The Sunday before last, it was a beautiful sunny morning and with my husband home to watch the children, I finally got round to setting up my telescope on a patch of "wild bird seed mix" (a crop on farmland planted to feed the birds) by my home, a few miles west of Norwich. In the 15 short minutes I spent there before breakfast: enjoying the spectacle of 80+ linnets and 60+ yellowhammer, chattering away above me in the trees and swirling in and out of the mix, with the odd sparrowhawk fly by, and lapwing calling atmospherically in the distance, I had three interesting conversations with passers by.

The first, a dog walker asked me what I was watching, and whether I knew why the farmer hadn’t knocked the crop back, I of course relished the chance to big up the farmers efforts to help farmland birds & insects.

In this small field which had previously been a damp bit of farmland set-aside which walkers used to cut off a corner on the road, two thirds had been providing a spectacle all summer long of purple flowered phacelia, teeming with bees (photo below) and other insects. This was to provide chick food for farmland birds including the yellowhammer, skylark and even lapwing which nested in the neighbouring sugar beet field.

Now the seed bearing plants were coming into their own on the other third. This contains plants like barley & linseed, (and kale- a biennial which will provide seed next winter) and farmland birds flock to it in their hundreds in late winter when food elsewhere is scarce, to feed on the seeds which fall to the ground.

The farmer receives £30 of public money per hectare farmed for using a small percentage of the land to support wildlife in this way. Suddenly seeing that public money is providing real public interest, brightening up our mornings with the sound of chattering linnets and bright flashes of yellowhammers, this dog walker wasn’t so miffed about losing the short cut once enjoyed across the field- if it meant more to see while walking round it!

The next dog walker told me that his friend who lived opposite the mix was also a keen birdwatcher and had been monitoring the numbers of linnets & yellowhammer, swelling to a couple of hundred by mid-February, as more & more birds honed in on this lifeline in the coldest hours of winter.

Then a chap with a smart pair of binoculars around his neck, on the way to a nature reserve stopped his car and exclaimed- are you from the village? I didn’t know there were any other birders in the village!

Isn’t it nice that this little bit of seed, sown by a local farmer can bring so many people in a community together?