Feeding study could save wild birds
Research at farms, including one in Gloucestershire, could pave the way for farmers to be paid for feeding starving wild birds.
The research by conservation charity the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), in collaboration with The Co-operative Farms, is investigating the benefits of additional feeding for farmland birds during the leanest months of winter.
Numerous studies have shown that a lack of food from January to mid-April has a significant impact upon the survival rates of some bird populations, such as the grey partridge, tree sparrow, yellowhammer, reed bunting and corn bunting, and could also affect their breeding success later in the season.
Together with The Co-operative Farms, the GWCT has designed a range of feeding trials, which will involve three different Co-operative farms, as well as other farms across the country, including the GWCT's Allerton Project research farm at Loddington in Leicestershire.
The GWCT's previous research on its Allerton Project farm showed that farmland bird numbers were two-and-a-half times higher in years when additional grain was provided through pheasant feed hoppers than years without.
An important aspect of the trial is to develop ways of ensuring that non-target species, such as pigeons, crows, pheasants and squirrels, do not benefit from this supplementary food.
Peter Thompson, farmland biodiversity adviser at the GWCT, said: "We believe that it is vital for the recovery of farmland birds that supplementary feeding either through pheasant hoppers or spreading grain on the ground is included as an option under stewardship schemes and the Government is largely in agreement.
However, before this happens they want us to clarify a number of points in order to maximise the success of this option.
"Before supplementary feeding is included as an option in environmental schemes, we need to reassure the Government that the food is not being wasted on common species such as rats or crows. We also need to identify the type of seed that should be provided in hoppers and the amount that needs to be supplied to have the desired result."
The Co-operative Farms, which manages to combine a successful large-scale farm business with exemplary wildlife protection credentials, is assisting the trial at its farms in Goole in East Yorkshire, Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, and Ashby St Ledgers in Warwickshire, which is managed by Co-operative Farms.
David Watson, head of arable operations at The Co-operative Farms, said: "The Co-operative is committed to farming in a sustainable way that cares for the environment, protecting local wildlife and raising awareness about food. By supporting this trial our farmers can help throw a lifeline to farmland birds during these harsh winter months by providing feeders with wheat, or a mixture of wheat and oil seed rape, which could help many of these birds survive the winter."
Source: Rutland & Stamford Mercury