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Wild Birds and Crops Thrive at Burns Penlan Farm

Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2018

As we move into spring, Farm Adviser, Roger reflects on the winter season at our very own Penlan smallholding where many of the eggs and vegetables (when in season) for our moist food range are produced…

Whilst having a wide range of valuable natural habitats at Penlan Farm, there has been a planned effort to support farmland bird species during winter with the introduction of areas of seed rich plants, creating ‘feeding stations.’ 

Crops

Crop areas have been managed on a year-round basis, with historically, over 10 acres being used to grow crops of cereals (oats, barley and triticale), quinoa, fodder radish, borage, dwarf sunflower, rape, kale and turnips. The mix always has a proportion of flowering plants, giving a boost to pollinating insect species during the summer growing phase.

 

This will include phacelia, poppy, cornflower, vipers bugloss and corn marigold. The turnip variety is chosen as the preferred type for harvest and inclusion as a raw ingredient for the Burns Penlan Farm moist pet food range.

It has the benefit of providing a cover crop in late autumn/early winter months, used heavily by a variety of bird species as a feeding area.  Other crops have been chosen for their ability to produce high amounts of seed, of various sizes. This mix of seed types is crucial in supporting as many species of birds as possible, especially in late winter when most naturally occurring food supplies have been depleted.

Sites

The areas chosen are sited where tall wide hedges have been allowed to develop. This gives feeding birds a safe rest zone, as the increase in bird numbers has attracted more visits by birds of prey, principally sparrow-hawk and merlin.

This is the predator/prey balance changing as numbers rise. The overall outcome in terms of bird numbers surviving the winter is very much a positive despite this. Let’s not forget that birds of prey need to eat too.

Most of the seed eating species are far more comfortable feeding as a flock, so the increased numbers of the various species further enhance their feeling of ‘safety in numbers’. These spots, we would hope, are not therefore just bare ‘canteens’, but places where birds can relax and chill, after a meal of good quality, easily accessible food.

The hope is, that not only do more birds survive the winter, but that they enter the following  frantic spring breeding months in a better condition physically, hopefully further boosting the numbers of young fledging.

Many of these birds use Penlan ‘feed stations’ as a staging post in part of their migration. This migration can be within the body of the UK, but can also form part of a wider continental movement. To many of them, Penlan is a ‘fast food stop’ on their journey!!

Results

For several years, the wild bird populations at Penlan have been independently monitored over the winter period. We have been fortunate enough to receive fortnightly visits from experienced local ornithologist, Adam Dare during the period of mid-October to the end of March. This valuable data has allowed us to evaluate the success of various crop mixes, and also vary land management of field margins, hedges etc.

Here Adam provides his initial findings for winter 17/18.

“Penlan Farm Summary Report for Winter Birds 2017-18

The winter was marked by some spells of cold weather in February and March that had a significant impact on numbers of birds seen. There was a dramatic influx of Golden Plover, with over 200 birds recorded in one field. Cold weather increased the numbers of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Redwings observed. Conversely, mild Spring-like weather reduced the numbers of Song Thrushes.

 

Blackbird

Song Thrush

Dunnock

Robin

Skylark

Linnet

Chaffinch

Brambling

30.11.17

c.10

5 plus

3

4

c. 50

c. 100

c. 300

9 plus

09.01.18

18

18

7

8

69 plus

57 plus

272 plus

15 plus

19.01.18

12

21

3

5

105

c. 50

101 plus

9 plus

16.02.18

5

2 plus

6

5

54 plus

70 plus

71 plus

3

27.02.18

15

24

5

9

52 plus

82 plus

127

11

13.03.18

6

1

7

3

14

35 plus

44 plus

0


The other remarkable feature of the winter was the influx of Bramblings, which were seen in fields 22, 18 and most significantly 8. The figure of 15 on the 9th of January is a significant underestimate
as the picture shows. The numbers of Chaffinch are also an under-estimate as the counting of high volumes of birds when actively feeding in cover (turnips) is extremely difficult.

Skylarks maintained their usual good numbers, apparently unaffected by weather.

Once more the value of over wintering stubbles, seed rich field margins, weedy fields and, most surprisingly, standing turnips, was reiterated by the observations. I hope that the environmental diversity of Penlan can be maintained as a rare farmland haven for wintering birds.

Adam Dare, Chairman, Carmarthenshire Bird Club. April 2018.”

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