Top Stories from the Marlborough Downs
Marlborough Downs Farmers Celebrate!
Nature Project is five years old
Last week, the Marlborough Downs Nature Enhancement Partnership and its supporters celebrated five years of working together to make Space for Nature, a project that supports the landscape and wildlife of the Downs. The group has initiated a whole range of projects across a joint land holding of almost 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres). As well as creating ponds, wildflower meadows and wildlife corridors, the group’s farmer members manage grassland for owls and birds of prey, and offer a full training and events programme for farmers and the wider community.
As part of their now well-established farmland bird programme, many of the Marlborough Downs farmers have taken part in growing seed crops that are left unharvested so the birds can help themselves over winter and, more recently, supplementing this with grain and bought-in seed to feed the birds just as you would in your garden at home, though on a far bigger scale!
This programme has been co-ordinated by Jemma Batten, the Space for Nature project manager, and Matt Prior of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society, and together the Marlborough Downs farmers have distributed more than 20 tonnes of bird seed in the past year alone.
Grain (wheat and barley) is produced by the farms, and this is supplemented with a specially purchased high-energy mix that includes millet, sunflower hearts, canary seed, niger, and peanut granules.
The Space for Nature project has provided 60 giant feeders to ensure the seed is eaten by the birds and not rats and mice, which happens if the seed is simply scattered on the ground. However, it's not just birds who find the feeders a good spot for a snack!
This year two of the farmers have gone a step further and experimented with growing crops of millet as winter feed, to save the group the cost of having to buy it in. This has been harvested, cleaned, dried and distributed to other farmers participating in the programme. This work is funded entirely by the farmers, as there are no grants for these crops. Last week, at their fifth annual Spring Celebration, the group was proud to pay tribute to this effort by awarding the 2017 Wildlife Champion trophy to Ian Warman, one of the farmers involved. (pictured above loading a trailer with grain for feeders).
The time, effort and dedication invested by everyone in the group is certainly paying off, as farmland bird populations, particularly tree sparrows, are increasing in size and range.
If you’d like to find out more about the project, come along to East Farm, Winterbourne Monkton for Open Farm Sunday on 11 June, or join one of the many events we organise throughout the year.