By Tim Furbank, Director of Oakbank Game and Conservation
We are getting a number of panicked phone calls from customers asking when’s the latest they can drill their wild bird seed mixes as they are very concerned at the cold temperatures and lack of moisture. In every case the answer is the same – DON’T PANIC! The best example I can give is the experience we had at the Rotherfield Demonstration project last year.
For wild game we really need the wild bird seed mixes to deliver on two fronts – firstly winter cover and food and secondly, in the spring/summer of year 2 (and potentially year 3) an insect-rich habitat in which a hen and her chicks can safely feed. We therefore need to think carefully about the species we include in these mixes to get a balance between annual, biennial and, potentially, perennial plants to deliver cover, winter food and insects for as long a period as possible. Coming up with a mix on paper is the straightforward part – actually growing it is the tough bit!
Floristically enhanced grass margin to attract insect-rich food for partridges
Joe Edwards the Estate Manager at Rotherfield inherited some very weedy sites, full of docks, couch grass and thistles so we decided to fallow the plots that were being replaced as long as possible with the intention of planting the mix in June. Best laid plans! June 2016 was one of the wettest on record and drilling was never possible. On the plus side just about every weed in the seedbeds germinated and Joe was able to spray off the plots twice with glyphosate, meaning that when the mix was finally drilled on July 10th it went into a clean seedbed, into warm, moist soil and it grew away strongly. So strongly that when I went to look at it in October, the reed millet and quinoa was above my waist! The kale was at the top of my wellies and the species for years 2 and 3 such as the sweet clover, sweet fennel, chicory and teasel were all there in the bottom of the crop. And, as importantly, hardly a weed in site!
PARTRIDGE wild bird seed trial plot at Rotherfield this May in second year growth
At the Rotherfield Open Day on the 3rd of May everyone saw what fantastic brood-rearing covers these crops were delivering. Some of the species are not listed in the HF12 prescriptions but, thanks to an enlightened NE advisor in Harold Makant, the focus of the HLS scheme is in delivery for farm wildlife so if the mixes are increasing insect abundance and winter food then he is happy.
PARTRIDGE wild flower meadow trial plot at Rotherfield this May. Note difference between newly established second year flower-rich left-hand side and original field corner grassland, also second year wild bird mix plot dominated by kale in the background
On the back of this work we have designed 4 mixes for wild game; a wild bird seed mix, a nectar mix, a meadow mix and a floristic margin mix (for details see here). All are packed in hectare packs and for every hectare sold we will make a donation to the Interreg PARTRIDGE project, a North-European collaboration to increase grey partridge numbers together with other farmland wildlife.