Deane Valley Farm Blog

Feed the birds

Winter days

Just like that, in a few days’ time it will be December. As we leave autumn behind, we are gradually entering into our full winter routine at Deane Farm. As mentioned in our spring hedge planting blog post, we belong to DEFRA’s Countryside Stewardship scheme. This is part of the government’s strategy to protect and enhance the natural environment and we have entered into an initiative where we provide supplementary winter feeding for farmland birds.

Many types of birds such as tree sparrows benefit from the winter feeding scheme.

Why are we feeding the birds?

The idea of the scheme is to supplement winter bird food sources on arable and mixed farms with additional seed during times of shortage. We start feeding just before the natural feed supplies are all gone, encouraging birds stay in the area and helping them to maintain good condition during a time that is called the hungry gap. Then as we head into spring, well nourished, the birds will hopefully have a more successful breeding season.

This habitat management benefits Deane Farm’s overall biodiversity. Such measures enable wildlife to move more freely to access food, water and shelter. This aids their potential to adapt in response to environmental and climatic change.

What are we feeding them?

We make up a mix according to DEFRA’s specifications of cereals, oilseeds and specialised grains. We mix up to 70% of barley with a combination of oilseed rape, linseed and red or white millet. The types of birds we are targeting include tree sparrows, corn buntings, yellow hammers, linnets and of course our treasured cirl buntings. Don’t forget to look at our interview with the RSPB on ITV about our work boosting numbers of this rare species at Labrador Bay if you missed it!

The rare cirl bunting species, numbers of which are thriving in the RSPB fields we farm at the Labrador Bay coastal reserve.

Feeding time approach

We will be spreading 25kg quantities of the feeding mix every week at four different locations across Deane Farm from the start of December until the end of April. These will be close to our overwintered stubbles and wild bird seed patches to give the birds easy access as they travel through their winter habitat. It is also important to maintain clean and healthy feeding areas for good bird health, rotating to a similar area if necessary. The amount fed can be varied by up to 5kg each week to make sure we are meeting demand and not over feeding. In the office we fill in a feeding diary to keep tabs on our progress.

Winter stubble resting before spring planting

Approaching the shortest day

Let’s hope for a favourable winter for both birds and farmers! We still have another month to go before the days start getting longer again. The ewes are grazing happily in the afternoon sun with the start of a hopefully busing lambing season kicking off just before Christmas. After an exceptionally wet autumn, the potential for some drier winter days would be much welcome to tend the autumn-planted oilseed rape and cereals but we shall see if the weatherman keeps his word!
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