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Laying the groundwork to help declining farmland birds

This is an archived press release

Friday 1 October 2004

1 October 2004

Laying the groundwork to help declining farmland birds

Farmers learned how to increase populations of declining farmland birds at a demonstration day on a Peakland farm.

The Birds on Farmland event brought together more than 50 people from the farming community, Defra, RSPB and the Peak District National Park Authority to see practical farm work which can encourage ground-nesting birds to breed.

Much-loved species like lapwing, snipe, curlew, twite and skylark, whose populations have been steeply declining, can benefit from simple measures that are also good for grazing livestock.

The event, organised by the Peak Birds Project, was hosted by farmer John Key on his rented land at Upper Midhope near Penistone in South Yorkshire.

Bird-friendly techniques such as rush-cutting and creating wader-scrapes have been carried out on Mr Key's grazed pasture to encourage ground-nesting birds - and this year he was rewarded with five breeding pairs of lapwing and two of snipe. Another technique, called weed-wiping the rushes, is planned for next season.

Farmers saw the techniques demonstrated, using a tractor, flail and rotary toppers. Chemical weed-wiping was also explained, with a machine for farmers to view, and scrapes were excavated using a JCB.

Chris Tomson, Peak Birds Project officer, explained: "Dense rushes on pastures deter lapwings from nesting as they are wary of predators and need a good view whilst sitting on the nest, so it's important to cut rushes annually in early autumn. Topping rushes benefits birds and improves the grazing for cattle."

Wader-scrapes are also important as the chicks feed on insects such as midge larvae in the shallow margins. As the water recedes in early summer, more mud is exposed for the chicks to feed in.

The Peak Birds Project - jointly run by the Peak District National Park Authority and the RSPB - will distribute £500,000 of mainly Defra-funded grants over the next 10 years.

Chris Tomson was pleased with the positive response: "There is huge potential for conservation on farms, we are working with farmers to tweak their land management to benefit wildlife and to find the funding for them to do it. We are not asking farmers to turn their farms into nature reserves, unless they want to, of course!"

Farmers were able to discuss options available under the new Defra agri-environment schemes and the National Park's Environmental Enhancement Scheme.

The Upper Midhope demonstration land is under a North Peak Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) agreement. Contractors Chris and Andrew Howe carried out the work under Chris Tomson's guidance.

Equipment demonstrators included Stuart Bardill from Farmstar of Doncaster who provided a tractor to cut rushes using flail and rotary toppers supplied by Bomford, and Chris Payne from Logic with a chemical weed-wiper.

This is an archived press release

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