“Look, that lapwing’s banana-ing!” was the exclamation from my colleague.“It’s what?” I asked. “Banana-ing?”“Yes,” he replied. “When they’re displaying to potential mates, they often throw their heads back and stick their tails up in the air. They make themselves into a banana shape.”Everywhere I looked there were lapwings tumbling out of the air, skirmishing with each other on the ground, flashing black, white, and green.
Where was this wildlife spectacle? Not on a wild wetland nature reserve, or a heather-clad upland moor. This was in a carrot field.
The Isle of Axholme has a lot of these fields. Not all of them grow carrots, although many do produce a lot of the fresh vegetables that we’re used to seeing on the shop shelves – broccoli, cabbage, beetroot and onions. Many also grow more familiar arable crops, such as wheat and oilseed rape. The soils here are rich and fertile, but fragile. As well being one of most productive agricultural areas of the country, it’s one of the most important parts of England for wildlife associated with arable farming.
Farmland birds such as corn bunting, grey partridge, lapwing, tree sparrow and yellow wagtail are still a regular feature of daily farming life across the Isle of Axholme and the adjacent washlands along the river Idle.
Last year, my colleagues Anna and Jim ‘matched up’ six local farmers with 12 volunteer bird surveyors, in the first year of monitoring farmland birds in the area. Between them, the surveyors spent 228 hours surveying over 733 hectares across nine survey sites. Their highlights (in the table below) paint a picture of an open landscape where the big sky is still filled with skylark song, and the unobtrusive hedges are still home to proud yellowhammers and reed buntings.
This year, Anna and Jim will be expanding the network of monitored sites as part of the RSPB’s attempt to understand why this area is so valuable for wildlife, and to support those farmers who want to give their wildlife a helping hand.
Ahead of this spring’s farm surveys, we’re meeting up in the Red Lion in Epworth next Wednesday 26 March, at 7 pm. If you might be interested in having a bird survey on your farm, or in helping with them, drop Anna a line on 07736 722184 or email her at email@example.com. Get in touch before Monday 24 March to order your pub supper!
Or the corn bunting to give him his proper name! The nickname 'fat bird of the barley’ comes from their rotund appearance and their association with cereal cultivation.
Corn bunting by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Corn buntings used to be widespread throughout Europe, but are now one of the fastest declining farmland birds. There are just 800 singing males left in Scotland, mostly in the eastern lowlands. Now, a trial management scheme on 19 farms across Aberdeenshire and Inverness-shire may have discovered the key to their survival.
Read the full story here
When it's a hamper created by many of the wildlife-friendly farmers we work with across the country to help demonstrate the importance of supporting farmland wildlife.
You may have seen our blog posts before Christmas highlighting the hamper we handed in to Defra, created by many of the wildlife-friendly farmers we work with across the country. What you didn’t see was that we actually produced two hampers and last week we presented the second one to the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to thank him for the positive work he is doing for the environment and to keep in mind these wildlife-friendly farmers when important decisions are being made at the top levels of Government. In particular, in the next few months as the New Environmental Land Management Schemes (NELMS) are being designed and implemented, we wanted to make sure that the Government creates schemes that deliver the most for the natural environment.
We took the opportunity to remind him that by last year, 23,000 people had told us that they think the Government should invest in farming that creates a countryside richer in nature and that in England we’ve seen 47,258 messages to UK and EU governments calling for a better CAP.
The hamper went down well and we hope that it gives the Deputy Prime Minister a real idea of what can be achieved when farmers work with wildlife in mind and that the Government keeps these farmers in mind when making future decisions for the UK countryside.
Elsewhere, the Welsh Government’s wildlife-friendly farming scheme – Glastir - is the main tool for rewarding farmers who protect and maintain our countryside. In order to deliver, the scheme has to be designed to form part of a wider well-funded plan to tackle wildlife declines across Wales. Given Glastir’s key role, it’s also vital that farmers in the scheme are given the help, training and guidance they need to make it work for them, their wildlife and their farms too. Land management for nature often requires specialist knowledge and experience, and farmers must be able to draw on those best qualified to provide assistance.
The Welsh Government is currently consulting on the design for the Glastir scheme. We’ve been encouraging supporters in Wales to help farmland wildlife and the farmers looking after it by writing to the Welsh Government with their views on the proposals. If you’d like to get involved, you have until the 28th March, when the consultation closes. For more information see here.