In the UK, Skylark numbers have declined over the last 30 years, as determined by the Common Bird Census started in the early 1960s by The British Trust for Ornithology. There are now only 10% of the numbers that were present 30 years ago. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have shown that this massive decline is mainly due to changes in farming practices and only partly due to pesticides.
In the past cereals were planted in the spring, grown through the summer and harvested in the early autumn. Cereals are now planted in the autumn, grown through the winter and are harvested in the early summer. The winter grown fields are much too dense in summer for the Skylark to be able to walk and run between the wheat stems to find its food.
English farmers are now encouraged and paid to maintain and create biodiversity for improving the habitat for Skylarks. Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme offers 5 and 10 year grants for various beneficial options.
For example there is an option where the farmer can opt to grow a spring cereal instead of a winter one, and leave the stubble untreated with pesticide over the winter. The British Trust for Ornithology likens the stubbles to ‘giant bird tables’ – providing spilt grain and weed seed to foraging birds.
The RSPB’s research, over a six year period, of winter-planted wheat fields has shown that suitable nesting areas for Skylarks can be made by turning the seeding machine off (or lifting the drill) for a 5 to 10 meters stretch as the tractor goes over the ground to briefly stop the seeds being sown. This is repeated in several areas within the same field to make about two skylark plots per hectare. Subsequent spraying and fertilizing can be continuous over the entire field.
Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) suggests that Skylark plots should not be nearer than 24 m to the perimeter of the field, should not be near to telegraph poles, and should not be enclosed by trees.
When the crop grows, the Skylark plots (areas without crop seeds) become areas of low vegetation where Skylarks can easily hunt insects, and can build their well camouflaged ground nests. These areas of low vegetation are just right for Skylarks, but the wheat in the rest of the field becomes too closely packed and too tall for the bird to seek food. At the RSPB’s research farm in Cambridgeshire Skylark numbers have increased threefold (from 10 pairs to 30 pairs) over six years. Fields where Skylarks were seen the year before (or near by) would be obvious good sites for Skylark plots. Farmers have reported that skylark plots are easy to make and the RSPB hope that this simple effective technique can be copied nationwide.
Wild flower meadows across the country are being lost due to development, intensive agriculture and forestry.
Bill Quay Community Farm to the rescue
Hebridean sheep and Longhorn cattle from Bill Quay Community Farm have been used to help bring back life to the meadow at Wardley, Gateshead.
Livestock grazing allows wild flowers to prosper benefitting insects and other animals.
It’s not just the animals that are helped by the improvements though.
There are new footpaths and hedgerows in the meadow and hundreds of yards of old derelict post and wire fencing have been removed.
The improvements to the Wardley meadow by the restoration of flower rich grasslands play a part in the Durham Biodiversity Action Plan which exists to help threatened species and habitats.
Gateshead Council cabinet member for the environment, councillor Martin Gannon said: “It is always sad to see natural habitats destroyed and it is estimated that a staggering 95% of this country’s flower-rich meadows have been lost since the 1930s.
It is brilliant news that skylarks and animals can once again be seen and heard over and on the meadow at Wardley.
It is hoped the plans will ease the pressure on threatened species.
“big smile and thanks” – Mother Nature
Excerpts and Image 1. http://bit.ly/eBwBrk
Excerpts and Image 2. http://bbc.in/hneHGT