Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Cornish farmers - doing their bit for wildlife.

The beautiful North Cornish coast looking towards Pentire point
 I was lucky enough to have a few days down in North Cornwall towards the end of last week. October is a lovely month to visit the county, as the summer hoards have now long gone and if you happen to strike it lucky weather wise, well you are in for a real treat!

Many of these Coastal farmers rely on various forms of diversification to supplement their farming businesses – tourism is an obvious one, but so too is the Government’s Stewardship scheme. As I walked along the cliff tops to Pentire point and then on round the coastline to Rumps point, where I turned back inland to Pentire farm, I was constantly aware of a variety of options that had been implemented by these farmers on behalf of wildlife.

This part of the North Cornish coast line – between the two Pentires – the one I was visiting not far from Padstow and the other one next to Newquay – is the last remaining hotspot for farmland birds in the county - especially the Corn Bunting. If this population is lost, you would have to travel through Devon and Somerset and on to Wiltshire before you could be sure of spotting another one of these dumpy little brown jobs, often called the “Barley bird” because of its love of eating early ripening barley grains.
Farmers are doing their level best to help these birds by planting large areas of “un-harvestable cereals”, which are ideal for the Buntings to nest amongst (they nest on the ground) and then feed upon over-winter. This part of Cornwall also has a rich arable flora and so the farmers are also putting in “cultivated margins” – ploughing them over but then not planting them with a crop, so that the annual flowers can emerge and flourish.This is one of the few places that I have seen the very rare Corn Buttercup with its spiky seed head. 

I did not see any Corn Buntings on this occasion, but I’m sure they were about, perhaps now all gathered into one big winter flock, they may have just been feeding over the next headland out of sight.  I was happy though, because as a consolation there were huge flocks of mixed Linnet, Goldfinch, Skylark and Meadow Pipit all feeding on the wide variety of seeds within the field left specifically for them. Kestrel hunted small mammals and the last few Wheatear stopped to feed up before carrying on with their southerly migration. It was a wonderful spectacle to sit and watch for a while. 

With less money in the pot for funding the new Stewardship scheme, these Cornish farmers would sorely miss the extra income that they are paid currently to look after the local wildlife on our behalf. Should the funding, for whatever reason be stopped, it might well not only be the wildlife that goes, but perhaps the mixed farming of cattle and sheep too, changing a whole way of life that has carried on along this coastline for centuries.

We must work hard to make sure that this does not happen.

An un-harvested cereal field with an arable flower margin around the outside -
already alive with a wide assortment of birds feeding 

An arable flower margin, this time with a brassica fodder crop in the field,
 which will be grazed off by sheep during the winter months

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