2nd November 2015
Conservation and conversation at Rectory Farm open day
Stewardship and conservation were top of the agenda for a recent open day at Rectory Farm in Buckinghamshire. Hosted by George Eaton, the 22nd October event included a comprehensive tour of the Purdey Award winning farm for over 40 attendees, demonstrating how farming, sporting and conservation interests can be successfully integrated.
Research and advice was shared by experts from the RSPB, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE), and Kings’ technical advisors were on hand to discuss the game cover and conservation crops on farm that have provided a demonstration site for Kings since 2010.
Growers first listened to Kings’ manager Richard Barnes introduce the event as an opportunity for attendees, including representatives of Dovecote Park, NFU and Syngenta, to learn by asking questions and sharing ideas and advice.
Host farmer George Eaton gives an overview of how his business works and the value he places on conservation.
Growers listen to amateur bird ringer Garry Marsh on how Rectory Farm’s habitat provides huge benefits to farmland birds. Garry has recorded incredible results at the site over the last year.
A lesser redpoll being ringed by Garry Marsh on the day.
Growers heard how George has worked with Kings advisors to tailor a bespoke Moir Mix to meet his requirements, by including chicory and sweet yellow clover, for example, to provide a nectar source, structure and crop nutrition, as well as feeding goldfinches. He describes Kings’ advice as “invaluable”. George admits that establishing it was hard work initially, but well worth the effort as it will last for three years. Richard agrees; it makes financial sense to invest in the crop early on as it can have such a long life. Richard emphasises that with the right outlook, these results are achievable on every farm, though the crop must be managed appropriately, as George’s has, for it to be successful.
Farmland conservation officer for RSPB, Kirsty Brannan, explains how birds use the adapted Moir Mix. George supports Kirsty’s comments, “the amount of seed coming from the kale is phenomenal,” he says.
Sowing crops in autumn has plenty of benefits, Richard explains, including spreading the workload, easier access to equipment and feed and habitat provision.
From a plot of Campaign Mix, again carefully tailored to meet George’s requirements, Kings’ southern technical advisor Marc Bull describes effective management techniques. This includes considering any weed pressures present, as crop choice can result in these being reduced or exacerbated.
If found, amaranth should be managed as a broadleaved weed, advises Richard. Sourcing quality seed is essential to avoid contamination of plots by rogue species, particularly where millet is being used. It’s useful to take a note of any weed issues now so that they can be taken into account when planning for next season.
Reed canary grass being used as a hedge to provide shelter for the adjacent crop. These plots have been in constant game cover for 23 years and are still performing well thanks to careful management and rotation.
A leveret spotted in the pollen and nectar mix on the morning of the event. Crops like these provide “vital habitat” says George.
Growers returned to the purpose built education centre for presentations on pest and predator control, by GWCT’s Jonathan Reynolds, and habitat management by Peter Thompson representing GWCT and CFE. The event then returned to the outdoors and among the wildflower meadow mix behind the building, George describes how he is trying to establish yellow rattle through green hay.
Hedgerows provide a vital food source for farmland birds and wildlife. This example at Rectory Farm contains around eight different species, including wild barberry. A management plan for on farm hedgerows and woodland can be a valuable tool in ensuring they are well controlled but useful, Richard advises.
Growers are lead through George’s woodland area, which is an almost equal split of trees and shrubs. To keep the warmth in, the area is bordered by another hedgerow.
As a Kings demonstration farm, different crops and management techniques are trialled at Rectory Farm, including this autumn sown wild bird seed mixture over 0.2ha. Work like this informs the advice offered to growers and can result in new products becoming available.