Outsiders often overlook the benefits of conservation within game shooing; an example of which is the sowing of Wildbird mixtures for farmland birds.
Benefits for wildlife and landowners
Wildbird mixtures are designed to provide a sustained food source for game and wildbirds during ‘the hungry gap’ (December 1st – May 1st) before the spring flush. To increase the number of species of farmland birds, it is imperative that they have food sources during this time. Looking at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) latest Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC), evidence suggests that supplementary feeding has helped a number of species come back from the brink. It is important to note, however, that supplementary feeding goes hand-in-hand with predator control – currently a contentious issue.
Wildbird seed mixtures are generally made up of species that appeal to both gamebirds and farmland birds. Plant species such as millet, mustard, quinoa and linseed provide masses of early season food while triticale and fodder radish hold seeds later into the winter: thus extending the period of food supply.
The benefits of Wildbird mixtures do not stop at the birds: landowners receive funding through stewardship (AB9) – typically £640.00 per hectare (ha). Another benefit is that wildbird mixtures are less susceptible to vermin pressure than straight cover crop options. Invariably badgers, rats, deer and rooks are less attracted to a Wildbird mixtures than, say, a crop of maize.
Farmland birds found in our crops
The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count is a reliable source to gauge which species of farmland birds thrive best in particular habitats. It is comforting to know that following decades of decline, Wildbird mixtures have help boost the populations of bird species such as Corn Bunting, Goldfinch, Brambling, Greenfinch, Grey Partridge, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Twite, Turtle Dove, Linnet and Chaffinch.
Judging by the vast number of farmland bird species spotted in our Wildbird mixtures, we at Bright Seeds have confidence that our mixes provide a good, sustained source of food during the winter months for both game and wildbirds. The mixtures we provide have been carefully put together and are supported by Natural England, RSPB and GWCT.
Ben Dolbear, a technical advisor at Bright Seeds, says “Our mixtures are exclusive to us, they have been fine-tuned over time to achieve a balanced mix that performs for the environment. Over the years we have acquired a wealth of practical knowledge around establishment and management techniques and have been able to link this to the overall performance of our mixtures. And, of course, mixtures can be tailored to suit individual circumstances.”
However, despite the vast environmental benefits, we would never recommend swapping a traditional game cover, such as maize, entirely for Wildbird/stewardship mixtures.
We often recommend something in the region of 50/50 between maize and Wildbird mix to give the birds variety of feed and crop canopy. Also, if a neighbour has a maize plot next door, birds will be drawn to this and there is the potential to lose birds. A cross over is always beneficial to both game and farmland birds, the key is to have a rotation of two or three different game cover and stewardship crops to develop a patchwork quilt of cover habitat.
With many shooting estates using Wildbird mixtures across the country, more should be made of the conservation work by keepers and landowners. It presents a good opportunity to highlight the positives to counter the negative position of some towards field sports.
Another development that may help the industry receive greater recognition for its conservation is Brexit – or, more specifically, the agricultural regulations that come in to force post-Brexit. Early indications suggest that in the proposed ‘Green Brexit’, farming payments (BPS) will be closely linked to stewardship. This means that landowners (including shoot owners) will be rewarded for sowing conservation crops, rather than just receiving payments because it is agricultural land. If farmers and landowners are more openly rewarded for conservation efforts, this will surely be good PR for the sector overall.