The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has been a keen advocate of winter supplementary feeding for farmland birds. Evidence to support the Environmental Stewardship options (EF23 in ELS and HF24 in HLS), has come from research at our Allerton Project farm at Loddington in Leicestershire. Dr Alastair Leake, our project director, explained: “Our research shows that for some species you can get more breeding birds in spring simply by providing extra food from late winter to early spring. This new option is a fantastic move and will help support over-winter survival of farmland birds. Farmers are already doing a great deal for wildlife and this is another important way that they can successfully help the recovery of bird numbers.”
The options are aimed at seed-eating birds - such as finches, buntings and sparrows - to help them survive over the winter and the so-called ‘hungry gap’; the period between mid-winter and spring when naturally available seed food can be in short supply in the countryside.
Earlier today as the rain rattled against the window again and arable work had come to a standstill, I took the opportunity to talk to Richard Barnes from Kings Game Cover and Conservation Crops about supplementary feeding and management.
Phil Jarvis; (GWCT Allerton Project) I have included our supplementary feeding in HLS, what seed mixes are recommended and how do they differ from ELS?
Richard Barnes; (Kings) The HLS option requires a mixture of wheat and oilseed rape (maximum 65%) and a selection of the following seeds: mustard, safflower, oats, niger, hemp, sunflower hearts, red millet, white millet, canary seed and black sunflowers. The ELS mixture is more basic with a simple mix of 75% wheat and oilseed rape, 25% mix of red millet, white millet and canary seed.
Phil; What are the financial implications of these two feeding options?
Richard; The ELS option attracts 630 points (£630) per tonne of seed used. It uses 75% wheat and oilseed rape and 25% other seed mix and will cost between £450-550/tonne. The HLS option offers a payment of £822/tonne of seed used, seed costs will range from £550-650/tonne. These prices will vary, depending on own home saved wheat and oilseed rape values.
Clearly on both ELS and HLS, you need to factor in the labour cost and any extra feeders, especially for feeding small seeds, associated with the supplementary feeding.
Phil; Yes... I can see some head scratching over the value(£) of bird feed, but ultimately these feeding regimes should be great for farmland birds
Phil; I am concerned that some of these seeds may contaminate our arable crops if they are not spread or fed in the right areas, how should I address this?
Richard; The seed should be spread on wild bird seed plots, overwintered stubbles, tracks or hard standing which should help to reduce any ongoing problems. All the seeds are annuals so shouldn’t cause long term problems. There could, however be a significant risk of introducing problematic weed species if low grade and poorly cleaned seed is used across wild bird seed plots. At Kings we work hard to source the highest quality seed for planting, we take the same approach for seed that will be spread in the supplementary feeding options. In our opinion this is vital, as low quality seed can cause problems with crop management if the likes of rogue millets (Barnyard/Cockspur Grass and Foxtail millet) get established.When spreading make sure you keep the seed mixed up! Bouncing around the farm with a spreader will see the seed settle very quickly and you could end up with the first area of the farm covered in millet and your last stop covered in sunflower seed!
If you are using hoppers as well, you should restrict the impact of vermin by either moving them regularly or using cages and guards.
Phil; We have been using a thick gauge mesh guard around hoppers to discourage non-target species, it may also provide some protection to the smaller birds from sparrow hawks that might target feeding sites.
Phil; I see from the rules that I have to keep a diary of the feeding from January until 30th April. What other requirements are there?
Richard; You need to record mixture components, amount fed and locations used. Also keep your invoices for any additional purchased seeds – don’t forget to record your own internal transfers of wheat. Just remember you can't use low grade tailings from the grain store.
Phil; A number of farmers will have missed the registration deadline this year (Dec 15th 2012), but it will be worth checking with Natural England asap because start dates etc are quite complicated.
Is there anything else farmers should do?
Richard; Yes farmers can support a voluntary feeding approach supported by Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) and because its voluntary, you can spread some of this year’s tailings.
Oh.... and don't forget to take a pair of binoculars with you when you are out feeding, the benefit of your hard work should be some great birds on view!