It started soon after the farm became a LEAF demonstration Farm in 2002. RSPB offered to do a farm survey which showed up high numbers of yellowhammer and some lapwing and tree sparrow. David Buckingham from RSPB also noted meadow barley on one field which was unusual this far north. We discussed making late hay on part of that field to see what else of interest would show up and help regenerate the rare grasses. This we still do now.
Soon after RSPB asked if we would help with a trial comparing whole crop spring barley with maize to work out the different financial and environmental impact of both crops. From this it was hoped agri-environmental payments could be made for farmers swapping maize for spring barley. We had stopped growing maize previously because of the damage to the soil structure that harvesting did in a wet autumn, but it was still grown locally so they used those fields for the maize side of the trial and we grew spring barley with a reduced pesticide programme to allow weeds for bird food.
Yields were compared and also wildlife use. It did show that more wildlife used the spring barley crop than the maize but the trial did not go any further.
At the same time we did a trial for RSPB on a field of third cut silage. 2 crops of grass had already been cut and ensiled and for the 3rd cut we only cut half the field and cleared the grass. The uncut area was high in ryegrass and had gone to seed which would provide feed for over-wintering birds. We then put an electric fence to cut the field in half at 90o to the direction of mowing. This quartered the field. We then grazed cattle on one half. Field officers then recorded how wildbirds feed on the field as there was a quarter cut and grazed, a quarter uncut and grazed, a quarter cut and ungrazed and finally one uncut and ungrazed. It was thought the birds would feed on the uncut area grazed by cattle as the tall grass had been flattened and the birds would be able to see predators approaching. Instead they congregated on the area that was uncut and ungrazed and did so in large numbers.
This was turned into a much larger trial a few years later on this and other farms and is a way for all grass farms to leave some over winter food for bird by leaving areas of ryegrass uncut.
Yellow Hammer Project
The farm has high numbers of yellowhammer which RSPB were hoping to do research on. On a number of farms in Shropshire and Somerset field officers started to record where yellowhammers gathered food for their chicks. The hope was to work out what habitat suited chick survival. Monitoring where the adults went the field officers would vacuum up the area to find what bugs were there and by doing the same in areas where the yellowhammers did not go they could work out which insects the yellowhammers were after.
It stated well until the oak tree came into leaf when the Shropshire yellowhammers went up the trees to get caterpillars; something they are not meant to do. But no one told the yellowhammers. So the project was moved to only Somerset.
Water testing with Wolverhampton Chemistry Department
When the farm first became a LEAF demonstration farm. Anne Wheeler at Wolverhampton Uni ask if Chemistry students could come and get water samples from various pools and the Reedbed to analyse in the lab as a practical experience and projects to write up.
During the autumn and winter they came out every fortnight and took samples from 3 ponds.
One on the edge of a field that was fed from field drains. One against a neighbour’s field and our fields and one in the middle of a wood that was spring fed.
Over 3 years the nitrate and phosphate levels in the field fed pools was no higher than the spring feed pool which gave me confidence in my field nutrient management.
The only exception was the pool against my neighbour in the winter after he ploughed the adjacent grass field in the autumn; the nitrates leapt up and stayed high through the winter. This was caused by the mineralisation of the organic matter in the soil after ploughing. That is why I plough grassland in the spring and capture that release of nitrates.