Birds are part of the heart and soul of Sheepdrove Organic Farm.
They are splashes of colour dancing across the landscape, and they play some of the lead solos and choruses in the soundtrack of the countryside.
This remote area of downland, organically managed, is home to over 100 species of birds.
Across the British Isles farmland bird populations have declined seriously. The RSPB and BTO publish lists to indicate the state of Britain's birds. Sheepdrove is home to over 36 birds on the Amber List (vulnerable) and 20 species on the Red List (threatened).
Threatened birdsWe are fortunate to have some very special birds here. Red Kites are a common sight at Sheepdrove, seen in groups during late summer and winter. The red listed Skylark can be heard on many parts of the farm and is breeding successfully here, as is the Corn Bunting. Once a familar sight on UK farmland but now under serious threat, Sheepdrove supports large flocks of hundreds of these busy little birds.
Some of our more unusual birds include:
Peregrine Falcon (not nesting yet!)
Raven (not nesting yet!)
So many of the birds considered common 30 years ago have become threatened species, such as the Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Starling, House Sparrow and Grey Partridge, which are all Red List birds today. The UK populations of these birds fell by more than 50% during the last 25 years. These birds each benefit from the variety of habitat enhancements and wildlife corridors developed across the whole farm.
The Barn OwlThe Barn Owl is one of the farm's greatest success stories. During the early 1990's Peter and Juliet Kindersley had their first owls take up residence in a purpose built nest box after seeking advice from the Barn Owl Conservation Network.
Fifteen years later, after installing dozens of nest boxes, and making many miles of rough grass hunting habitat, we have recorded up to five breeding pairs of Barn Owl during the same season.
We have plenty of extra boxes to benefit other vulnerable birds too, such as Kestrel, Tawny Owl and Stock Dove.
We are eagar to help our feathered friends, not just because we care; birds are important predators, and therefore help the farm by controlling potential pests like snails and greenfly.
Organic farming has an important role to play in a number of ways:
- no herbicides means more wild plants within the crop, which means more wild seed and insect food
- avoidance of animal medication means cleaner dung which feeds multitudes of insects who are then food for birds
- fertility created by clovers is held in the soil ecosysem better than chemical fertilisers, which means more soil life to eat
- naturally balanced fertilisation of soil using legumes and compost helps to conserve arable wildflowers like poppies, which add to the food sources for species such as Skylark, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge
- Crop rotations and temporary grass leys ensures grassland and crops are interspersed, providing a range of habitats for nesting and feeding birds
We have established large areas of special habitat to provide shelter and food all year round. Environmental Stewardship programmes encourage bird-friendly measures such as overwinter stubble, fallows, sown strips of wildflowers, and careful hedge management. All of which is second nature to organic farmers but these schemes actively encourage conventional farmers to do more for wildlife with these schemes.
Advice on farmland bird conservationWe have been very lucky to work with dedicated surveyors and volunteers from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology). Together, they have provided Sheepdrove Organic Farm with detailed bird surveys and on-farm visits to come up with ideas on how best to support our bird life.
Special target species - those in most need - included Stone Curlew (special nesting plots created), Corn Bunting (management of some areas altered to suit) and Grey Partridge (bird seed mix, conservation headlands and lots of rough grass margins).