Another trip down to Wallasea at the weekend was enlivened by a spell of watching over the area sown with ‘wild bird cover crops’, which has been attracting large numbers of birds. The influx of Short-eared owls and other raptors this winter has brought into focus, at least for me, the value of these areas for farmland birds.
At Wallasea, 15 ha has been sown with wild bird cover crops, split between spring sown, autumn sown and fallow plots, which are rotated. The spring mix, re-sown annually, contains 30% barley, 25% spring wheat, 20% millet, 20% triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye) and 5% mustard. This plot was targeted at Corn Buntings and this winter has attracted over 300, as well as 120+ Linnet, 150 Skylark and 70 Reed Buntings. Raptors regularly seen around the plot have included up to 5 Hen Harriers, 5 Short-eared owls, Merlin, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.
My recent trip to Exminster Marshes revealed another good area, with 600+ Linnets (now up to 900 apparently) and a variety of buntings on show. Last winter, during the severe weather, this plot attracted 1200 Skylarks, 800 Bramblings and 500 Chaffinches; not a bad haul.
At Greys Farm in north Hertfordshire, extensive areas of wild bird cover have benefited farmland birds, principally in a very successful effort to boost partridge populations, albeit with very intensive predator control. This winter, the farm has provided a focus for raptor watching, with three Hen Harriers, Red Kites, several Short-eared Owls and a Great Grey Shrike.