Farming with Wildlife, Norton Suffolk Archive

Fenced grassland at Wyken Hall

Wyken Hall bird count 1st September 2017

The bridleway heads west from the farm on the edge of Stanton towards Walsham le Willows, I have used this track for many years and have seen it change. The hedges have been allowed to grow, the verges are wide, brambles and nettles are not all cut back, there are many wild flowers in the shorter track edge. Ponds and a water reservoir have been established. Around Wyken Hall farm some arable land has been put down to grass and fenced for animal grazing, many new trees and hedges have also been planted round the hall. Un-grazed grassland is managed for hay, wild flowers thrive here.

 

Bridleway at Wyken Hall

Bridleway at Wyken Hall

In mid August on a hot Sunday afternoon I took the dog for a walk down the bridleway, wheat was being harvested from the field south of the track, changeable weather has made for a challenging harvest. As I headed away from Wyken Hall the track edge was rich with late summer flowers and despite the sounds of harvest bees and dragonflies could be heard. But, most noticeable were the late summer butterflies ranging from common whites and blousy brimstones and on the shorter grassland flowers small heaths and coppers. Elusive Purple hairstreaks were in the high oak leaves, red admirals and painted ladies soared boldly from flower to flower.

Wide field margin managed for wildlife

Wide field margin managed for wildlife

 

I met Kenneth Carlisle earlier in the summer on a farm walk to promote turtle dove conservation in Suffolk’s black bourn valley, he asked me to survey the birds at Wyken Hall estate. 1st of September I started at sunrise when the birds are more active and vocal. Although I have been given access to the whole estate for this first count it was hardly necessary to leave the bridleway for the hour and half I was counting. Even though the farm is managed in an environmentally positive way I was surprised by the number of birds I saw and heard. Perhaps the spotted flycatcher family and the pair of nuthatches were the most memorable from the morning.

 

Pond at Wyken Hall

Pond at Wyken Hall

Flower rich grassland at Wyken Hall

Flower rich grassland at Wyken Hall

September is probably too late to survey turtle doves, many of them will have already started their autumn migration to West Africa. I saw no turtle doves 1st September at Wyken but, I will search for them again next spring.

Bird count Wyken Hall 1st September 2017

Bird count Wyken Hall 1st September 2017

Fenced grassland at Wyken Hall

Fenced grassland at Wyken Hall

 

 

Brown hare  sitting close at sunset. June Suffolk. Lepus europae

Summer Hares summer weather

The brown hares that live round Norton Suffolk emerge from the hedges and long grass at dawn and dusk. These photographs represent their lives in low light and ever changing weather conditions.

Barn owl itch in middle of morning oak. July Suffolk. Tyto alba

Summer Barn owls in Oak trees

Barn Owls can be seen hunting the rich field margins of Little Haugh and Halls farms in the long summer evenings. The hedges are punctuated with old oak trees, many with hollows where the owls can nest and roost in.

Silver-washed Fritillary in morning sun,  June Suffolk.  Argynni

Life in Pakenham wood

Pakenham wood is an ancient woodland that was replanted in the 20th century with softwood. Despite this some of the native hardwood trees and much of the typical woodland plants have survived. Pakenham wood is being restored by gradually removing the softwood and allowing the native trees and plants re-establish. Even before the work started the wood was one of the best places to see Silver-washed fritillary butterflies in SE England.

Careful management of the woodland rides has allowed the butterflies adult and caterpillar food plants to thrive. Large numbers of Silver-washed fritillary and White admiral butterflies flying in Summer 2017 are an early indication of the success of the restoration and management.

New ponds dug in the wood have encouraged water loving insects and plants. The ponds have also been colonised by newts.

The photos below were taken during a morning walk in Pakenham wood 26th June 2017.

October Bird Counts at Halls & Little Haugh Farms

 

I walk round Halls and Little Haugh Farms at Norton Suffolk several times a week especially since my horse has retired and gone to live with the Honeywood’s old pony at Halls Farm.

Rye waiting during Sky Lark count little Haugh

Rye waiting during Sky Lark count little Haugh

 

12th Oct 2016 bird count Halls farm Norton

12th Oct 2016 bird count Halls farm Norton

28th Oct 2016 bird count Little Haugh farm Norton

28th Oct 2016 bird count Little Haugh farm Norton

There always seem to be “more birds around” but, in terms of evidence this is meaningless. The British Trust for Ornithology surveyed the bird population of the UK between 2007 – 2011 the “Bird Atlas” , I took part in this survey. I counted the birds in 1km Squares fours times a year for 1 or 2 hours along with 100s of other people all over the UK. The BTO Bird Atlas is the best evidence we have of the UK bird population.

Orchard at Little Haugh farm during bird count

Orchard at Little Haugh farm during bird count

I will follow this plan to survey the birds at Halls and Little Haugh. I will try to walk the same route at least 4 times a year and count the birds I see. The results of my first walks can be seen here. My walk at Halls farm took just over an hour, Little Haugh I walked further for nearly 2 hours. This is the main reason I saw more birds at Little Haugh.

0G1P3140Little Haugh farm during bird count

0G1P3140Little Haugh farm during bird count

There is commercial game bird shoot over both farms because of this I have not counted the pheasants and red legged partridges I saw on the walks even though many of these birds are nesting and breeding on the farms.

Dug out wasp nest, field edge Little Haugh

Dug out wasp nest, field edge Little Haugh

Farm payments, money for nothing?

Payments to farmers and land owners is a news story that is repeated every year and often has negative spin. Farm payments were first started to increase food production and decrease reliance on imported food. In the first half of the 20th century huge amounts of land were left unfarmed because it was cheaper to import food.

Farmer’s payments used to be linked to production and they got a guaranteed price for their products. This led to over production; the infamous grain and Butter Mountains were one of the results of this policy.

Farmers now get market prices for their products, these prices change dramatically depending on world production. In low price years many farms loose money on their crops and the farm payments keep them in business. This is especially true for smaller and upland farms.

The payments are now linked to environmental and landscape management, these include; controlling water pollution, soil quality, maintaining hedges and wildlife protection. Even the simplest “Basic Payment Scheme” has to be applied for every year and the farmers must show they are following the rules. Many farmers and landowners apply for higher payments including “Countryside Stewardship” which has different “Tiers” and further rules. These can include flood management and restoring wildlife habitat.

For most farmers the payments they get are an essential part of their income. Making sure the “Basic Payment Scheme” application is made correctly is vital but complicated and many farmers employ consultants to make their applications.

The compliance rules include the width of field margins, when hedges can be cut, which type of crops can be grown and water used for irrigation. If these rules are not kept payments can be withheld.

The compliance rules are there for good environmental reasons however, many farmers and landowners just see them as hurdles that have to jumped. Without a commitment to the spirit of the compliance rules many of the environmental benefits are not being delivered.

To get an understanding of the complexity of the compliance rules have a look at some of links below. Farmers and landowners are not getting money for doing nothing!

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/countryside-stewardship-get-paid-for-environmental-land-management

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/546336/BPS_2016_scheme_rules_FINAL__DS_.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guide-to-countryside-stewardship-facilitation-fund

 

 

 

Indentifying the moths in the trap at Halls farm

Norton Moths

Standing in the orchard at Halls farm on warm summer evening butterflies give way to many more moths as the sun sets. Some of these moths are big and colourful many more are small fast and very difficult to identify especially as it gets dark.

5 spot Burnet moth in Halls farm orchard

5 spot Burnet moth in Halls farm orchard

There are about 2500 species of moths in the UK, 900 of these are the bigger or macro moths many of which are large and beautiful. All these different moths need different habitats to live in and plants to feed on. The number of different species and total count of moths found give a good a good indication of the health and diversity of a local environment.

Because most moths come out at night they are hard to see. However, most moths are attracted by light, especially “blue light’. This summer we have running a moth trap at Halls and LLH farms Norton to record the moths living here.

 

Indentifying the moths in the trap at Halls farm

Indentifying the moths in the trap at Halls farm

We run the trap over night and the following morning identify the macro moths caught and the number of each species. On this page I will try to, post the recording we make through the summer. The trap is run once or twice a week and the moths released after they have been recorded. The moths settle on egg boxes in the trap and are usually quiet early morning before the sun warms them up.

 

Moths in the trap early July

Moths in the trap early July

Depending on how keen we get we will try to run the trap in different parts of the farms to get an overall picture of the moths living on the farms.

 

Norton Barn owls, 2016 a good breeding year?

Barn owl picking up vole from right foot. Cloudy June evening. Tyto alba

Barn owl picking up vole from right foot. Cloudy June evening. Tyto alb

Are the Norton Barn owls having a successful nesting season? The short answer is yes, we have checked over half the know nest site at Little Haugh and Halls farms and so far found six breeding pairs.

 

20% of the land on the farms is managed for wildlife as well as for the commercial game bird shoot. The wide rough field verges, woodland and grassland are all ideal for hunting Barn owls. However, lack of nest sites was a problem that we tackled in autumn 2014 by erecting 15 new boxes, this summer 10 of the new nest boxes show signs of Barn owl use and 3 have been used by Tawny owls.

Barn Owl young in new Barn owl box

Barn Owl young in new Barn owl box

Over the next few days we will be checking the older nest boxes on the farms. These boxes are higher up and more difficult to see into, I tend to put them off to last but, I will check them and let you know if we find any more breeding pairs.

 

The 2 broods in the photos have only two young owls. This may be due to the cold wet spring and that the adult Barn owls are young and inexperienced. However, the adults are now catching voles and mice in good numbers and the boxes are quite smelly from the voles waiting to be eaten!

Barn owl young in new Barn owl box 2nd brood

Barn owl young in new Barn owl box 2nd brood

 

The longest established Barn owl nest site on the farms is deep inside the Halls farm Straw barn. In the last few days Steve Honeywood has seen 4 young owls being fed on top of one of the bales. It will not be long before the young owls leave and it is probable that this pair will have a second brood, we will keep watching.

Barn owls boxes, good for hornets too

Barn owls boxes, good for hornets too

 

 

Should we be subsidising this action?

Farmers in the UK receive subsidy every year called the “The Single Payment Scheme”. The scheme is not linked to production but farmers must meet “cross-compliance” standards and demonstrate that they are keeping their land in “Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition”

Ditch canalised, thick old hedge flattened, green field edge gone

Ditch canalised, thick old hedge flattened, green field edge gone

The standards of Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition relate to issues of soil erosion, soil structure, soil organic matter and set minimum levels of maintenance so as to avoid the deterioration of habitats and protection and management of water.

In Suffolk these standards are clearly open to interpretation. These photos are typical of the work being done during the winter on many farms receiving the “The Single Payment”.

Old green lane and possible ancient hedges turned into row of standard trees

Old green lane and possible ancient hedges turned into row of standard trees

Ditches are dug out sometimes over 3 metres deep into the clay subsoil. Old over grown hedges are cut down to ground level with the exception of the odd “standard tree”, any hedge re-growth is prevented by annual cutting. Green field edges that are part of “cross-compliance” are reduced to liquid mud by ditch spoil and heavy hedge cutting tractors.

On most Suffolk arable farms over 95% of the land is in arable production and of little wildlife or environmental value. If the remaining 5% of land consisting of hedges, field edges and ditches is heavily managed in the winter these farms become wildlife deserts.

close up of "management work" done to old green land and hedgerow

close up of “management work” done to old green land and hedgerow

The improved drainage that results from the deep bare channel like ditches runs straight into rivers and then into the East Anglia fens which at sea level are very vulnerable to flooding. The bare or sparsely vegetated ditches also lead to increased nitrogen pollution.

The activity shown in these photos are not a once only action. Ditches are scoured regularly leading to increased run of water at flood prone times. Hedges and verges are cut back hard on all sides every year seriously degrading their environmental and wildlife value.

It is hard to see how this sort of action meets the spirit of the cross compliance standards and should be rewarded with public subsidy. In addition this farm is used for farm demonstrations by Frontier Agriculture Ltd and is visited by many farmers. It is hard to see how some of the management practices on are in line with Frontier’s stated environmental policies.

http://www.frontierag.co.uk/about-us/corporate-and-social-responsibility.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

March a critical time for Barn owls

Barn owls hunt by sound and fly silently but their silent feathers are not waterproof. This is why the Suffolk Barn owls have been hunting at all times of the day for the last few months, they are trying to avoid the rain that soaks their feathers and wind that stops them hearing small rodents. However, up to now I have often seen them catching field voles, this makes a change from the lack of voles last spring.

 

Barn owl hunting small Suffolk meadow March morning Tyto alba

Barn owl hunting small Suffolk meadow March morning Tyto alba

March and April are important months for Barn owls if they are going to breed successfully. The females must gain enough weight to be able produce eggs later in the spring. As we run into March in Suffolk the mornings have been frosty and even snow is forecast, this makes a change from the mild stormy weather we had up to now. It remains to be seen if the changing weather effects the field vole population, this in turn will decide if the Barn owls have a good breeding year or not.

 

Barn owl over small Suffolk meadow March morning Tyto alba

Barn owl over small Suffolk meadow March morning Tyto alba

So far this March the signs are good and the Barn owls are still catching plenty of voles. I will keep watching, the next few weeks will dictate the Suffolk owls have a good year or not.