Winter feeding of gamebirds is a widely adopted game management practice and is equally important to our shoot at Loddington. Filming of feed hoppers revealed that they were used by songbirds and rodents, as well as by gamebirds and the use of hoppers varied considerably between sites.
Songbirds made greater use of hoppers where pheasants were also using them than where pheasants were excluded, presumably because pheasants knocked grain onto the ground where it was more accessible for other birds. In response to the varying numbers of animals using the hoppers during January and February, grain consumption varied from just a few grams to 2kg of wheat per day.
Our long-term monitoring of songbirds suggests that, for those species that use feed hoppers, breeding numbers were 30% higher in years with winter feeding than in years in which there was no feeding. Biodiversity Action Plan species such as stock dove, tree sparrow, yellowhammer and reed bunting, as well as more abundant species such as blackbird, dunnock, robin and chaffinch, all make regular use of feed hoppers filled with wheat.
Our data were used to support proposals for a new Environmental Stewardship option for supplementary winter feeding that came into operation in January 2013. As with other measures developed by the Allerton Project, we hope that this will contribute to increases in songbird breeding numbers elsewhere, matching those we have achieved at Loddington.