GAME CROPS sown with mustard and oats have proven to be the preferred crop for encouraging wild bird species, according to latest survey results.

Set-aside sown with ‘game crops‘ – mustard and oats mix in particular – recorded a much higher instance of wild birds than any other crop variety, the Game Conservancy Trust survey found.

Based on arable trials in Angus, game crops attracted 47% more bird species than stubble and set-aside fields and 83% more than conventional arable crops, the results showed.

Where bird populations are limited by winter food supplies, game cover crops could help halt or even reverse some bird population declines, said the Trust‘s David Parish who conducted the study.

“It should be noted that many of the species found to be using game crops are those whose population trends are causing concern and this is not just restricted to seed eating species.”

Song Thrush, Blackbird, tree sparrow and bullfinch all made heavy use of game crops, with the latter two not recorded in either the basic set-aside or conventional crop, he said.

“With adequate motivation, the area of the UK planted with these crops could greatly increase and thereby potentially have a huge impact on farmland bird populations,” Dr Parish added.

The study will continue over the next year, comparing the results from different game crops, including triticale, kale, linseed, and the mustard and oats mix.

But Dr Parish expects different results next year, as kale, being a biennial, produces seeds in its second year and is likely to attract more bird species.