A local farm that’s at the forefront of research in Environmental Stewardship received praise from the Environment Minister on Tuesday.
Owner of Hillesden Farm, Robin Faccenda, and farm manager Richard Franklin welcomed Environment Minister Richard Benyon and representatives of Natural England and conservation groups to a tour of the farm.
For the last five years, Hillesden Farm has been the home of a detailed study on how best to tackle the so-called ‘hungry gap’ for farmland birds.
The hungry gap is the time between mid-winter and spring when naturally available and planted bird seed food can be in short supply.
The Hillesden Farm study showed that winter food habitats were largely exhausted by the end of December.
During the study, different areas of the farm have been managed under different environmental stewardship options to give a scientific comparison on how best to tackle the hungry gap.
The work at Hillesden has helped develop newEnvironmental Stewardship options for farmers, including a new incentive to provide supplementary food for seed-eating birds, including finches, buntings and sparrows.
The study, which has been jointly funded by Defra and Natural England, covers land management techniques including overwinter stubbles, enhanced stubbles, wild bird seed mixtures, unharvested conservation headlands and nectar flower mixtures.
But Shelley Hinsley, of the Centre for Hydrology & Ecology which carried out the study jointly with the British Trust for Ornithology, said: “Even the best-quality patch will not last all winter.”
The study showed the number of birds surviving over the winter could be significantly increased by regular scattering of seed on the farm tracks during these critical months. Farms in the study are supplied with 12.5kg of mixed seeds twice a week.
Hundreds more birds have been counted on these supplementary feeding sites, compared to the other bird food patches, which run out during the winter months.
Mr Benyon said: “I think you have created something very special here. I’m so impressed, I’m really grateful for the opportunity to see it. The work being undertaken here at Hillesden is giving us an increasingly clear picture of how environmental stewardship can provide benefits for wildlife and businesses.”