Supplementary Feeding Through ‘The Hungry Gap’

The hungry gap refers to the time of the year when the winter is at its harshest and natural food sources – such as seeds, berries, and insects – are scarce or unavailable to farmland and game birds. Typically, it lasts from December until the middle of March.

As part of The Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) – Mid-Tier supplementary feeding (code AB12) – is designed to help struggling farmland birds during these months. This scheme sees landowners, farmers and gamekeepers financially rewarded for feeding specific mixes through the period from December-March.

Those entered can expect to receive £632 per tonne of feed they make available, with the option only available to those growing a minimum of 1ha AB9 – Winter Bird Food. Tonnage is limited to 1 tonne per 2ha of AB9 in the agreement and it has to be ratio of 70% cereals with 30% specialist small seeds.

Supplementary Feeding

This is highly relevant to shoots with keepers’ role in helping to reduce winter mortalities of farmland birds long established, however, plugging the hungry gap continues to prove challenging. This is the reason supplementary feeding has featured in stewardship schemes for so long.

Many shoots have been planting conservation margins and winter bird food mixes long before government funding was available. At present, many stewardship options are compatible to use within a shooting estate.

Winter Bird Feed (AB9), for example, can be tailored towards the game cover market, and new Mid-Tier options such as Autumn Bumble Bird  (autumn planted mix, works well as brood-rearing cover) can be another useful option. By working alongside the farm in establishing options that will be most financially rewarding, shoots can directly benefit from the increase in stewardship area.

Prohibited Activities

To qualify for payments on any CSS codes, there are rules and prohibitions in place to ensure that both the wildlife and the environment benefit as intended. AB12 is no different.

Below are some of prohibited activities, with those in this scheme asked not to –

  • use hoppers to supply more than 10% of the total amount of feed provided during the specified feeding period
  • use tailings (small seeds and chaff removed from the harvested crop) as supplementary feed
  • use a mix which contains more than 70% cereals
  • use any one species to supply more than 50% of the non-cereal seed component by weight

On your annual claim you will be asked to declare that you have not carried out any prohibited activities.

Golden Rules

Make sure the winter supplementary feeding mix includes cereals (not maize) at 70% and other small seeds at 30% (this is a minimum of 30% of the total mix by weight). The small seed mix must contain at least three species (see below), with no individual species being more than 50% by weight.

Small seed species that can be used are:

  • Canary seed
  • Linseed
  • Oilseed rape
  • Red millet
  • Sunflower hearts
  • White millet

Once the regulatory mix has been satisfied, maize can be fed in addition.

The certified mix can be achieved through using Bright Seeds AB12 pre-mix (for the 30% of small seeds) with 70% farm saved wheat. Once the regulatory mix has been satisfied, maize can be fed in addition, and a popular option is our Cut Maize with aniseed to give extra starch/protein to help farmland and gamebirds ride out the colder months.

Benefits to Shooting

Though the primary benefactors of supplementary feeding are the farmland birds and other wildlife, there are also several benefits to shooting.

One of these benefits is that that the AB12 feed mixtures provide another dimension to the gamebirds’ diet – they will appreciate some variety. And, as the gamekeeper or farmer is out feeding anyway, it makes sense financially. Wild game birds will also profit, with the feed mixture helping to improve the bird’s condition coming into the breeding season.