Hope not Hype!

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Mark Avery's blog

I'm the RSPB's Conservation Director. My aim with this blog will be to comment on matters of conservation importance and give you a few insights into the RSPB's conservation work - there's plenty to write about!

Hope not Hype!

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At Hope Farm we count birds in every month of the year.  The breeding numbers are key, but the winter figures are interesting and tell us something about the feeding conditions for those hardy species that stay with us through the winter.

A few days ago the December count was done at Hope Farm by a gang of counters.

In December 2000, soon after we acquired Hope Farm, the count, of 22 species, and including wood pigeons, was of 203 birds.

This week, there were 2075 birds of 44 species - quite an increase.  Even if you exclude wood pigeons (c600), pheasants and rooks (c150) there were over 1400 birds on the farmland.  That's actually a 10-fold increase in a 10-year period.

Species of note include 199 yellowhammer, 172 skylark, 61 linnet,  27 bullfinch, 137 redwing, 37 grey partridge, 1 corn bunting, jack snipe and waxwing.

Bullfinch and grey partridge counts are a record for any winter count.

Jack snipe and waxwing (grrrr!) are new species for the farm.

Hope not Hype!

  • Thank you very much Mark       number 2 yes my point perhaps meant that farmers could do it on the scheme but lets not forget that not all general public wildlife friendly so not all farmers are going to be even though it looks as if they get lots of money unfortunately it is not enough to cover all the cost of paperwork and especially the disruption of having a beetle bank in the middle of a field with all the disruption to implements.Number 5     Sounds as if i am being critical i think but not the case,i think your partner gets in my opinion a better deal than is usual between landowner and share partner which is what i would expect for what you desribe a slightly awkward diversion.Neither of these comments meant in a critical sense just found it extremely interesting that you at Hope Farm cope with what is mostly called intensive farming and proved to get extremely good increases in lots of birds because this is the only way to do it,farmers are not going to take lots of backward steps losing money in the process and making more work for themselves.The difficult part is getting your results known in the right place.      

  • 1) no

    2) except most farmers are not doing beetle banks or nectar-rich margins although these are options in the schemes.  That's part of the problem as I have pointed out in this blog many times.  And it isn't a criticism of farmers - but it is a criticism of the schemes.  Let's hope that defra changes things quickly.

    3) yes, that's right

    4) yes, if we want to do anything that is outside of the normal then our contract farmer gets paid for doing them

    5) not sure I understand the question, but basically our contract farmer probably sees us as being an interesting but slightly awkward diversion from the rest of his business!  But I'm guessing.

  • Think your last comment needs more answers as it raises many questions 1)have you now any fields of set aside 2)the small areas of beetle banks and margins are exactly which schemes are getting all farmers into 3)the majority of the farm is managed intensively with your partner who obviously needs to get good yields for his income and obviosly having a partner means he has a significant input 4)do you if you want any special things done on the farm compensate him in any way shape or form 5)do you agree that perhaps the reason he seems to get a particularly good deal financialy is to farm as the RSPB would like him to.Look forward to the answers.  

  • bordercollie - I don't think that we ever did anything specifically for bullfinches but I would guess that the rows might (I only say might) be a factor in attracting them.  Or - it might be a fluke!

    mirlo - well that's a fair point.  Our use of set-aside would count as de-intensification because the previous owner used the set-aside land to grow industrial oilseed rape (as was allowed).  So we introduced set-aside as set-aside and that made quite a difference in the early years.  Then use of agri-environment schemes with nectar-rich margins and beetle banks is taking a very small area of land out of intensive production too.  And we have monitored some invertebrates - but I'm not quite sure exactly which and how often - I'll find out and see whether there is a blog in that subject.  Certainly we've looked at butterfly numbers.

  • Mark

    I am interested to know if the farmland at Hope Farm has been de- intensified somewhat to achieve this increase in bird numbers and species. I would also like to know if you have been monitoring invertebrates over the 10 years as this would be a brilliant way to show whether biodiversity of birds is strongly linked to invertebrate biodiversity and abundance

  • I too was disappointed that the RSPB changed the name of the farm, however once it was explained that the Grange Fm name was only a relatively new name itself it didn't really matter. Great work to produce such a good increase in species & numbers. I wonder if the bullfinches were a case of played for & got or rather there more by chance!

  • Great stuff - must visit one day.

  • Thanks. Sounds even better now. Lets HOPE every one else thinks so as well.

  • Jockeyshield - briefly - our neighbours are not shooting estates or anything like that.  Since we acquired Hope Farm (about half way through, I think) one nearby farm has started releasing some grey partridges but I have to say that we got grey partridges basck at Hope Farm before that happened.  There is no predator control done by us and there is rather little done in the neighbourhood.  In my experience of visiting the site, we quite often see foxes, crows are common but magpies aren't very numerous.  There are counts from a nearby farm which we have now stopped because the two farms have diverged so much in various respects - but the farmland bird trends were always pretty flat compared with ours.  And we do compare our farm's Farmland Bird Index with that of the east of England as a whole and Hope Farm is psectacularly better.

  • What I would like to know about this oasis in a big desert is what are your neighbours doing? Are they part of shooting syndicate? Do they trap Stoats and Weasels? Are they killing Foxes and Crows? It's not all about land management. Are there counts on your neighbours' farms? With temperatures continuing to fall will you be doing any thing extra on the farm to support this wildlife?

  • Yes Mark think however anyone looks at this it is a fantastic result and i am not going to knock anything good like that.The big problem is getting the message over and even if only some of the things Hope Farm does are done on a proportion of farms the end result must be a improvement and of course do not think there can be any argument that farming at Hope Farm is what people who comment on here call INTENSIVE so perhaps if you agree with that the RSPB could emphasise that intensive farming and improved bird numbers can go together.Congratulations but although i understand why you changed the farm name for historic reference think it a pity it was changed but a minor point compared to improved bird numbers.Without doubt the big problem is getting the message across and help from DEFRA and NFU would be a big help i would think.

  • Brilliant, just shows what can be done to help farmland birds and wildlife and still have a very productive and profitable farm.