"It’s important that we put the same amount of effort into mitigating our environmental impact and safeguarding the local wildlife as we do our commercial business” - Commercial Director, Tim Harper
Efforts to preserve the environment and conserve wild game at the Blankney Estate go hand in hand with the large commercial farming business. Set up four years ago, a recovery project to help revive and grow the grey partridge population has seen particular success, receiving the Jas Martin & Co. Lincolnshire Grey Partridge Trophy for grey partridge conservation management.
620 acres of land have been set aside to help the wild grey partridge flourish in an area where there was only a density of 30 birds previously. Keen to help the population thrive, Blankney Estates entered into a voluntary conservation programme on top of their Higher Level Stewardship Agreement and their efforts over the last few years have seen fantastic results.
“We’re a large farming operation,” says commercial director, Tim Harper, “so it’s important that we put the same amount of effort into mitigating our environmental impact and safeguarding the local wildlife as we do our commercial business.”
Comprising more than 14,000 arable acres and owned by the Parker family, Blankney Estates is a large agricultural business in Lincolnshire with land farmed in the villages of Blankney, Metheringham and Scopwick. Harvesting is a demanding 12-month cycle with produce grown for human consumption, animal feed and energy, while the Estate also operates one of the last remaining commercial grass driers in the UK.
Tim explains, “Our aim is to grow high quality, safe food and produce with long term sustainability – to the standard our customers require and expect. However, it’s just as important that we meet our environmental objectives, so our conservation options need to deliver exceptionally well.”
Exceptional they are too. With over nine years of support and expertise from Kings technical advisor, Meehal Grint, well-integrated stewardship options now compliment the farm and family shoot while the new designated grey partridge conservation area has already seen a steady increase in the number of birds.
Annual counts prove benefit of good habitat and feeding
Meehal has worked with Tim, beat keeper Kevin Garrick and head keeper, Terry Stoddard to oversee the grey partridge project. While counts have been recorded on the Estate since 2009, real differences were noted in 2014 following the introduction of autumn sown brood rearing and wild bird seed mixtures in 2013.
43 acres of mixes were carefully established on the site, including Kings Sanctuary Mix, Kings Enhanced Autumn Sown Wild Bird Seed Mix in rotation, floristically-enhanced margins and year-round supplementary feeding. Meehal comments, “These mixtures were selected because we want to concentrate on good nesting cover and high insect-rich brood rearing cover. Winter feed is a huge priority too, as we want to ensure the birds are in the best possible condition for the breeding season following the ‘hungry gap’.”
Annual counts are carried out over 253.26ha, of which 135.16ha are arable, 117.3ha are forage and 0.8ha are woodland. Official counts for the autumn of 2016 were taken on a reduced area of land due to cropping but six pairs were recorded with 17 young. When the full count area could be accessed in 2017, 14 pairs were recorded with 70 young and numbers remained consistent in 2018 with 9 pairs and 65 young. In addition, there were also seven pairs of red leg partridges with 21 young.
Since submitting the official counts, Kevin has also been able to access another area of land where counting couldn’t take place due to the harvest of maize. Here, he has so far recorded an impressive 77 grey partridges from six coveys.
Following the great success of this voluntary initiative, the Estate has set aside additional areas to introduce further autumn sown brood rearing, nesting, and wild birdseed mixtures ready for the 2019 breeding season.
To date, the Estate also boasts 142 miles of hedgerows and 259 acres of buffer strips and protection zones. Amongst this sits 36 acres of wild bird seed mix, 129 acres of archaeological protection, 33 acres of species-rich grass and 20 acres of enhanced shooting cover and maize, providing invaluable food and shelter for farmland birds.
The importance of a whole farm approach
The project is viewed by Tim’s team and the Parker family as a rewarding and ongoing commitment that serves as a great example of how to effectively strike a commercial and environmental balance within a large-scale farm business. While there is of course a cost to implement the chosen stewardship options, Tim is compelled to carry out the work for the clear long-term benefits such as increasing the grey partridge and farmland bird population, mitigating the effects of demanding agricultural practices and helping to create a resilient environment in the wake of recent challenging weather events.
Through ongoing experimentation and with the support and guidance of Meehal and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Blankney Estates is already working to establish the new Integra and custom Blankney Special Partridge Brood Rearing Mix.