With spring nearly out the door, game crop management is in full swing up on GWSDF Auchnerran. There are seven game crop plots on the farm, the same number and location used for the previous pheasant shoot. One cover crop area contains canary grass. The other six are currently bare after difficulty establishing a highland cereal mix. The reason for this failure is mainly due to the very high density of rabbits on the farm, as well as low soil pH levels (4.7 in our Ballabeg game plot, for example). But hopefully with a new management plan in place it will be third time lucky to get the same cereal crop away.
We have chosen to focus our efforts on three out of the six available plots for 2017 and to ensure these are done well. In future years these areas will be rotated to improve field conditions and bunny proofing measures. The first port of call this year has been the rabbit fencing elements for the game crops.
All hands were on deck at the farm with Marlies (GWSDF research assistant), Ruth (placement student) and Allan (GWSDF farm manager) doing the rabbit exclusion fencing in-house to keep costs down as much as possible. This is a key strategic objective of the farm to ensure operations are just like what you would normally find on any hill-edge farm in Scotland.
For carrying out the physical groundwork of our plots, we are working with Davie Winton and his son Alastair, local contractors. The Winton team have been very accommodating with working around our dozens of lapwing and oystercatcher nests. They too have some wader nests on their own farm, so it was a relief that they are open to the idea of being mindful of sensitive nest sites. We would like to thank them for their attention to detail and professionalism.
This work demonstrates that modern day agriculture can work hand in hand with biodiversity. Even though the crops will have some small gaps in the canopy, it is a fair compromise of seeking the balance in wildlife conservation across the UK and beyond. Even though the crops did fail in previous years, they have created ideal nesting habitats for these precious wader species. So it was all not a complete loss like we thought after all.
Spraying was carried out on 28 April, and ploughing started in mid-May with fertilising, direct drilling and rolling being finished this week with the much-needed ‘liquid sunshine’ to get the cereal mix off to a good healthy start.
We would like to sincerely thank Alan Johnson and Kings Seeds for assisting us in this process, supplying the highland cereal mixes and first class agronomy advice. As with any start up, be it personal or business, the learning process is a fundamental element in developing a robust foundation for success in the future. As my wise old Irish grandmother used to say, “One who made no mistake made nothing”. A close eye will cast over the crops over the coming weeks to ensure the best chance of establishing the first game cover crops on GWSDF Auchnerran.