Wild Bird Cover Crops as a Non Productive Investment in ACRES Co-operation

Strips of Wild Bird Cover add diversity to farms that are predominantly grazing enterprises. They support pollinators and other insects during the summer, in turn these provide a protein rich food source for small birds raising their young. They support birds and small mammals through the winter, not only seed eating birds benefit but also species like Thrushes and Rooks who can forage in the decaying vegetation for Snails and Earthworms.

The benefit of supporting smaller birds and mammals extends throughout the food chain. Not only do more small birds survive the winter to breed the following spring  but the increased supply of chicks and small rodents the following Spring and Summer means a greater food source for Hen Harriers and Barn Owls.

By planting in strips, parallel to hedgerows, the crops benefit from the shelter from the hedge but also provide better hunting opportunities for birds of prey which often hunt along linear features. On small farms, with limited areas of good soil, planting in narrow strips allows the farmer to put in a useful crop without impacting excessively on their grazing or fodder production capacity. For many farmers, strips of Wild Bird Cover are a better fit than planting entire fields.

The crops used are a mix of a cereal, normally Triticale, a range of brassicas including Mustard and Forage Radish and Linseed. Smaller amounts of Phacelia and Vetches add variety.

  • Triticale is hybrid between Wheat and Rye, it has greater tolerance of low pH soils, germinates, and grows at lower soil temperatures, is less prone to lodging than Wheat or Oats and provides a food supply right through to mid-winter.
  • Forage Radish grows rapidly, is very attractive to Bees, Butterflies, Hoverflies, and other pollinators, it flowers until the first frosts. When the plant dies it leaves a mass of rotting vegetation which is very attractive to slugs, snails and worms, a food source for many birds. Radish has the additional advantage that it produces a big tap root. As it grows this root punches through compacted soil, when it dies and decays this leave gaps which improve soil aeration and drainage.
  • The Linseed is the star performer for supporting small birds, it produces huge quantities of energy rich oily seeds which sustain Finches, Sparrows, and other seed eating birds through the winter.

Wild Bird Cover strips will be important Non-Productive Investments on farms in ACRES Co-operation areas, particularly where Barn Owl, Hen Harrier or Yellowhammer are local objectives. To help demonstrate the value of these crops and the suitability of land for growing them we have worked  with farmers over the summer to establish demonstration crops. Over the last few weeks these have been coming into bloom, over the next few weeks we will run open days on these farms to demonstrate what can be achieved.

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