Farming and wildlife Norton Suffolk Archive

Farm Clusters, local action for the environment

Turtle Dove in a Suffolk meadow. Streptopelia turtur

Turtle Dove in a Suffolk meadow. Streptopelia turtur

Plastic dumped in the sea, butterflies disappearing, songbird numbers declining. Environmental news is relentlessly negative and depressing. But, these news stories do reflect the wider pressure on wildlife and the natural environment.

Turtle Dove in a Suffolk hedge. Streptopelia turtur

Turtle Dove in a Suffolk hedge. Streptopelia turtur

However on a local level it can feel different. Halls and little Haugh farms had 7 pairs of Barn owls breeding this year, the farm round my village of Westhorpe had 4 pairs of Barn owls this year. Sliver washed Fritillary butterflies scarce in Suffolk 10 years ago are spreading from Pakenham wood and last summer were commonly seen in other woods round Norton and Stowlangtoft . Purple Emperor Butterflies are appearing in Suffolk woods where they have not been seen for a 100 years. Turtle doves are in steep decline nationally but, three pairs are breeding at Badwell Green and we have seen them for the last 2 years at Halls farm Norton. I put swift boxes under the eaves of my house last winter, last summer 2 pairs of swifts used these boxes and I had dozens of fast flying screaming swifts round the house in early August, I will have to keep my head down next year.

Barn owl early morning looking down in oak. July Suffolk. Tyto alba

Barn owl early morning looking down in oak. July Suffolk. Tyto alba

All over Suffolk there are local positive wildlife success stories. Much of the decline in wildlife is rightly blamed on intensive farming. However, increased awareness by landowners and environmental protection schemes are starting to slow and sometimes reverse the damage to wildlife.

Silver-washed Fritillary about to land behind, June Suffolk. Argynnis paphia

Silver-washed Fritillary about to land behind, June Suffolk. Argynnis paphia

Too often these wildlife success stories are in isolated pockets, many plants and animals can’t move away because the surrounding conditions are unfavourable. And perhaps more importantly the management and knowledge behind the success are not shared.

Farm Clusters are a recent initiative that will benefit the environment and wildlife by farmers sharing their resources, knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm in local areas. A group of farmers works together to identify the environmental and wildlife aims that are achievable their area. Clusters can compliment and enhance the effects of existing agri-environment schemes. Usually one or two farmers lead the cluster so that results are delivered on a landscape level rather than an isolated local level.

Brown hare stepping into dawn sun. August morning Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

Brown hare stepping into dawn sun. August morning Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

Modern farming is reliant on financial support from taxpayers. This has moved from production-based subsidies to payments for specific work that protects water and soil quality and the environment. The future of these payments is uncertain but, there is strong trend to base payments on the results of work done rather than just on the work itself.  For example a riverside grass strip might only qualify for payment if water quality and wildlife species numbers can be shown to have improved. Any changes in the way farmers and landowners are supported will mean developing new expertise in measureing outcomes, farm clusters will help farmers deliver and measure real environmental benefits.

Farm clusters have the potential to deliver quick wildlife and environmental results. Farms can cooperate to link hedges and woodland so wildlife can move along natural corridors. Field margins can be planted with the best local pollen, nectar and seed plants to feed insects and birds through the year. Ditches and rivers can be managed on a landscape level rather than a farm level to manage water levels and prevent flooding.

A group of farmers in Mid Suffolk is looking at setting up a farm cluster. If this can be made to work many of the recent local isolated wildlife success stories have the potential to be magnified onto a landscape level.

Swift flegling head out of box. July Suffolk. Apus apus

Swift flegling head out of box. July Suffolk. Apus apus

 

 

Wet Brown hare moving in before dawn. September Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

September Hares

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 leveret sitting in evening sun. August Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

Brown hare leverets

Brown Hare running on stubble at twilight . August Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

Harvest Hares

In August as cereal crops are harvested brown hares become far more visible. The day length is still quite long and I am able to watch and photograph them early morning and at sunset. At Norton they like the wide field margins and the specially planted wildlife and game strips .

 

Muntjac deer paused in dawn light. August Suffolk. Muntiacus reevsi

Muntjac deer dawn and dusk

Muntjac deer are common but secretive. I see them most frequently at dawn and dusk slipping out of hedges and at field edges. Muntjac are very shy and wary as most landowner try to control their numbers because of the damage done to crops and woodland.

Brown Hare backlit by evening sun. August Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

Twilight Hares

Brown hares become active as the sun sets and rises. I see much more interesting behaviour and interaction in the “twilight zone” The latest cameras are able to work in near darkness allowing me to photograph hares at the times they are most relaxed and confident.

Brown Hare running the bend through grass. July evening Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

Brown Hares intimate at dawn and dusk

Brown hares come out to feed and socialise early morning and evening, summer is the best time to watch them. The hares at Norton have started to get used to me and will often come very close, here are some of my favourite moments.

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.

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.