17 May 2002

SUSTAINABLE FARMING: 6

FOOD FOR BIRDS

Oilseed rape is the best crop on the farm for providing food for birds, says Lincolnshire farmer Nicholas Watts.

"But the management of it is very important if you are going to support and enhance the bird population," he points out.

Harvest preparations are paramount. "If you swath, at least half of the reed buntings will still be nesting at the time. And no nests survive swathing. So desiccation is preferred."

Block cropping of oilseed rape is also problematic. "The birds dont like it. Reed buntings in particular dont follow the block. They go back to the original site each year."

Lack of food in wheat fields at the end of June can be rectified by including one grain of winter barley per kg of wheat seed, he advises. "Winter barley is edible by Jun 20, so any corn buntings will have something to feed on. And it costs nothing to do."

The use of flail mowers on hedgerows in July and August should be avoided. "It reduces the numbers of birds and their food sources. Many birds are still nesting in August."

Hedges must be allowed to fruit and the use of 2m margins on the farm will provide habitats and food for various bird species, continues Mr Watts.

"One of the main reasons for declining numbers of farmland birds is the lack of winter food. This can be avoided by the use of margins, conservation headlands, and set-aside."