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Big Farmland Bird Count 2019

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The Countryside Restoration Trust is taking part, once again in this year’s Big Farmland Bird Count 2019!

The winter bird survey which is organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust is currently underway (8th – 17th Feb) across the UK.  The survey involves a count of the traditional farmland birds seen in one area of a farm during a 30 minute period.  Anyone can take part but will need to register to submit their results.

Head of Wildlife Monitoring, Vince Lea has completed the Lark Rise Farm Big Farmland Bird Count this morning and it seems like the Grey Partridge know it’s the most romantic day of the year! Normally, at this time of the year, the Grey Partridge would be seen in a large group noun as a covey. However, when Vince returned he reported back the Grey Partridge had already paired up!

Recently, tenant farmer, Tim Scott was awarded for the ‘Redlist Revival: Highest Density of Grey Partridge’ on Lark Rise Farm. However, there were many other red list species of conservation concern was seen on the farm including Song Thrush, Yellowhammer, Linnets and of course lots of Skylarks!

This ‘snapshot’ survey provides important data on the health of winter bird populations in the countryside, and also captures data on species which only visit this country in the winter months to feed and are not recorded as part of spring and summer bird surveys.  Large flocks of redwings and fieldfares; winter migrants, have been recorded by the wildlife monitoring staff on the CRT farm properties, along with large flocks of starlings; some of which are resident birds and some are passage migrants. In the UK the Starling is a red listed species because of the loss of suitable habitat including traditional pasture and suitable arable land.

Give it a go and take part in the Big Farmland Bird Count 2019!

This survey has been branded a ‘crucially important citizen science survey’ as it enters its sixth year. Farmers and landowners are being encouraged to take part in the survey when they have a few minutes to spare.  For such a short amount of time an important amount of data can be recorded on the state of farmland birds in this country, so please take time out and take part.

More information, including aids to bird identification, can be found on the Big Farmland Bird Count website

Love your birds by putting up boxes!

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Valentine’s Day sees the start of the BTO National nest box week.  Now’s the time to put up nest boxes in time for the start of the bird nesting season.

The Countryside Restoration Trust is encouraging landowners and farmers to put up bird boxes to encourage farmland birds.  Nesting sites have declined over recent years because of agricultural intensification and development old farm buildings, and by putting up a box you are providing an ideal breeding site for common and vulnerable species of farmland bird.  Even if you think you may have suitable sites on your land a few boxes could enhance the site by attracting additional farmland bird species.

The CRT has many bird monitoring projects underway on its farm properties and these include nest box schemes for birds such as Common Redstart and Barn Owl, but also to assess the breeding success of common species from year to year.

You can get your bird box by building one yourself, or buying one of a suitable design.

Buying a nest box

There are a range of boxes on the market some of which will not provide a suitable nesting site for birds.  Here are a few points to consider:

  • The box should be well insulated and made from suitable material such as wood or WoodcretePLUSTM. The walls should be at least 15 mm thick.  Only non-toxic wood preservative should be used on the outside of the box.
  • An entrance hole of 32mm is recommended to allow entry to small hole-nesting birds such as tits. If it is a wooden box a metal plate may be needed around the hole of the box to prevent woodpeckers from enlarging the hole.
  • Boxes should be easily accessed for cleaning and maintenance after the breeding season has finished (and monitoring purposes).
  • Boxes should not be too small; the internal floor area should be 130cm2, to allow enough room for a large clutch of eggs. Small holes or side slits should be present in the base of the box to allow drainage.
  • Ensure the outside of the box does not have any footholds for squirrels and woodpeckers to reach in through the hole. The deeper the box the better as this will make it difficult for predators to reach the nest.

Where to site a bird box

  • Ideally the box should be one to three metres from the ground on the trunk of a tree. The bird should have easy access into the entrance hole and not be inhibited by vegetation, where predators can also perch.
  • The box entrance should be sheltered from the weather including strong sunlight.
  • If erecting more than one box, do not place them close together because birds establish territories around their nesting sites.
  • Ensure that cats cannot access to the box, i.e. via a fence or other platform.
  • Use galvanised nails to attach the box to the tree.
  • Do not erect bird boxes close to feeding sites because nesting birds will not want other birds entering their territory.
  • Boxes can be put up any time of the year, but it is best to do so in the winter or early spring. Birds start to pair up to nest in February, and some birds; like blue tits, use nest boxes as roosting sites throughout the winter months.
  • Ensure that the box is sited so that it is visible to passing birds so that they can come and investigate it.

Details of bird box templates can be found on the BTO website.

You may also wish to consider erecting boxes for other species of birds such as the Swift and the House Martin.  The CRT farm at Pierrepoint had swift boxes erected into the new dairy building, and we are due to install swift and house martin boxes under the eaves of the new education centre at Turnastone Court Farm.   The CRT also has successful barn owl box schemes on several of its farm properties.

Viv Geen

Monitoring Officer (Herefordshire)

Tony Juniper is the preferred candidate for Chair of Natural England

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Last week, the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove announced that Tony Juniper CBE is the preferred candidate for Chair of Natural England. Natural England set up under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to conserve, enhance and manage the natural environment for present and future generations through sustainable development.

The next stage will be for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee to examine Tony Juniper’s suitability for the job. If it is decided after this scrutiny that he is suitable and meets the principles set out in the Governance Code on Public Appointments, only then will he be made Chair of Natural England.

Taking to the stage as the at the CRT’s 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in London last year, Tony Juniper highlighted “the sense of urgency we need to attach to the conservation story.”

For more than 30 years, this well-known British environmentalist, has had a multitude of roles influencing projects on local national and international levels, as an advocate for a more sustainable society. He is currently the Executive Director for Advocacy and Campaigns for WWF-UK. He was made President of the Wildlife Trusts in 2015 following from roles such as Special Adviser to the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit and Special Advisor with the Prince’s Rainforests Project. Tony Juniper is a Fellow and part of the teaching faculty at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).

With this wealth of experience as campaigner, sustainability adviser, author and teaching, Tony Juniper has the knowledge and understanding to make a real impact to the English countryside and the policies that govern.

Tony Juniper CBE talking at 25th Anniversary Celebration

In his speech, Tony Juniper described how is already involved in developing a “‘new agriculture policy’ that will replace the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union” Over many decades the Common Agricultural Policy has splits billions across Europe, according to Tony Juniper “largely to the detriment of the environment and wildlife.” He aims that the new policy will feed money back into “the recovery of wildlife.”

At the RGS, he stated that part of the problem is the “way we feed ourselves”; mixed farming with a variety of habitats have declined into mono-culture to produce food in the most financially effective way – the “yields up, everything else down.” He discusses how the mono-culture is destroying rural communities and “the destruction of the wildlife is a symptom of the destruction of the system that sustains all of us… A healthy environment is essential for agriculture.”

Tony Juniper praised the work over the last 25 years, saying that the CRT “gives a sense of inspiration that things to do not have to be like this!” He recalled when he’d recently walked around Lark Rise Farm and was like he’d “stepped back in time”. He described the thriving abundance of butterflies in the meadows, birds in hedgerows, and even otters the have returned to the Bourne Brooke! “All of this coinciding with a thriving farm that produces food. So things can be done differently, jobs, food, and wildlife all together. Surely this is the kind of example we should embrace. And actually when I walk around that farm, I remind myself that this is not a glimpse back in time, some nostalgic remnant it’s the future, it has to be the future.”

He closed his speech thanking Robin and the Countryside Restoration Trust for the providing the “inspiration and hope that comes from a good example” that is Lark Rise Farm.

Watch Tony Juniper CBE speak at the CRT 25th Anniversary Conference

Re-Wilding and Wild Farming

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Awnells Dormouse

Changes on the land have always happened and are still happening. Some changes have been caused by biology, botany and technology – the advance of science – and some changes have been caused simply by changing farming fashions. In addition there are some people who have become totally detached from the land and nature and they want a sort of Disneyfied countryside where the whole of the natural kingdom lives in harmony while we eat various vegetarian delights. Sadly the latter is a total mirage; nature really is red in tooth and claw and if things were left with little human interference, two things would happen – we would all go hungry and wildlife would disappear at an even faster rate than it is disappearing now.

Re-wilding is given as an option and what is going on at Knepp Castle in West Sussex is given as a superb example. I have been there and I like the place and its rolling acres, as well as the owners Charlie Burrell and his wife Isabella Tree. But in my view it is not “rewilding”, it is “extensive farming” – the complete opposite of “intensive farming”. Yes, visitors like it, the free range meat produced there is delicious and some wildlife likes it – particularly the fantastic colony of purple emperor butterflies – but if the whole of Britain was farmed like it, what would happen? Well the most obvious answer is that Britain would have to import far more food and we must remember that in a hungry world the era of “cheap food” is quickly coming to an end. Already Britain produces less than 60% of its own food according to the experts. Unfortunately I believe the experts are being optimistic and we are producing less than 50% of our food with the figures for over-populated England being even worse.

Some people are now saying that our hill farmers and all their knowledge and culture has to go for rewilding and forestry – in my view that is pure nonsense. The Countryside Restoration Trust and I have not been “rewilding”, but we have been “wild farming” for the past twenty-five years; we have been producing quality food and quality wildlife. We have seen the return of the Grey Partridge, Barn Owl, Skylark, Water Vole, Otter, and Brown Hare and at Lark Rise Farm we have 26 resident species of butterfly – fantastic – my favourites being the Brimstone, the Orange Tip, the Marbled White and the White Letter Hairstreak.

But our work hasn’t stopped. The Turtle Dove needs desperate help as does the Dormouse and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker on one of our Herefordshire farms and the Curlew on our other one. But all I hear is we want “rewildling” we want “the lynx”, “the wolf”, and the “sea eagle”. Then from the same direction comes “predator control” must stop – “the raven must be allowed to breed unhindered like the buzzard” – and with every such wish the future for British wildlife declines.

Robin Page

Where has the time gone?

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How on earth is it 3 months since the National Hedgelaying Society was in Barton Village?!

On the 27thOctober last year– there was a frightfully cold southerly winds blowing a gust across the open fields of Lark Rise Farm. Up before the crack of dawn, this did not deter those prepping the hedges for the 40th Annual Hedge Laying Championship.

As the clock struck 9am, the horn was blown, and the fields were alive with the sounds of roaring chainsaws. 100 competitors from up and down the country had descended on the village to display their prowess in hedge-laying. Despite the very chilly winds, it was a gloriously sunny day and did not deter people from visiting the event! A full array of expertise and skills to view, it was a great day for all those who visited.

Since the National Hedge Laying Championship

The hedges have grown to become accustom to their new styles – Dorset, Derbyshire, Midlands and Southern just to name a few! Recently the CRT’s wildlife monitor took a walk down to the hedges and took a picture of their progress. Next year, and for many years more, these will be tidy gorgeous hedges that will continue to grow, creating wonderful habitats and wildlife corridors whilst also being a vital partitioning across the Lark Rise fields.

Recently, Roger Buisson sent us a time lapse video of Malcolm Johnson laying a hedge in the Midland style. Watch the video and see the skill involved!

Tim Scott – RGS

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In the final instalment looking at the highlights of the 25th Anniversary at the Royal Geographical Society, we hear from the tenant farmer of the flagship farm, Lark Rise.

25 years ago, Tim Scott became tenant farmer of Lark Rise farm. In 1993, Tim was tending to 20 acres of land. Since then the farm has grown to over 450 acres of farm with an abundance of wildlife!

“When I was a little boy, all I wanted to do, there were two things: it was wildlife and tractors”

Stemming from a young age, his passion for wildlife was apparent and now means that Tim Scott is now ‘living the dream”. Out in the tractor, in his “own little bird-hide”, he able to admire the vast array of wildlife that now call Lark Rise home!

There are many species that call Lark Rise home, but one has flourished on the farm. Because of the time and efforts Tim Scott has put into habitat restoration and natural food provisions, Lark Rise was awarded the highest national density of Grey Partridge. A spokesman from Redlist Revival commented, ‘The Award reflects the range of habitat, the proportion of the holding dedicated to ecology and the commitment Tim shows towards ecology and the enhancement of our natural resources.’ Find out more:

“A key word in the trust is sympathetic”

Every single decision that Tim Scott makes regarding the farm has wildlife in mind. Listen to hear Tim Scott explain what mosaic farming is and other techniques he has used to transform the farm from the baron farm it was 25 years ago to the naturally successful farm it is today!

Derek Gow – RGS

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For the fourth instalment looking at the highlights of the 25th Anniversary at the Royal Geographical Society, we listen to the clearly passionate talk from Derek Gow.

An ecologist that who is knowledgeable on beavers and argues for their reintroduction. In his career, along with help from other experts he has successfully contributed and so, is very experienced in the breeding and subsequently reintroduction of the water vole it is understandable that he refers to them through his talk.

“So many animals we were once familiar with, are not going to be brown, and furry, and breathing, and sentient; they are going to be black and white photographs in an encyclopaedia.”

Even though experienced in the smaller animals, Gow argues that we as humans are destroying all habitats and corridors that animals used. This reduction in space has totally change the size of the animal the land can sustain, and this has had a massive impact – especially on the British wildlife.

“The big carnivores are gone. The big herbivores are gone. And now we are worrying about the little animals!”

He deliberates on the idea of rewilding – how if done, should be done properly!

“Rewilding is a great idea until you hit a moose in your Mini!”

A powerful speech from an ardent and knowledgeable man!

Pam Ayres – RGS

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Beloved Hedgehogs

The third talk video this week is the illustrious poet, the entertainer, and passionate countrywoman Pam Ayres. During this talk we hear stories of her adored house with 20 acres of land that became home to many of the rehabilitating hedgehogs from the local animal hospital!

“The native birds are singing as they sing here every day,
oh who will feed my little birds when I am far away?”

The first poem Pam Ayres recites – an emotional and evocative poem about leaving her beloved house of 28 years. The house “where the swifts nested in the roof… under the same scrape of tile” on the 20 acres of land where she and her husband “planted 1000 natives trees and planted two native hedges… and developed the interest in having wildlife around [her]”. Her garden decorated with two decades of gifts of plants and shrubs. Poem running time: 07:50 – 10:07

She also describes her attempts to encourage wildlife into her now, much smaller, garden. Something so simple as leaving a pile of brash can encourage a multitude of creatures into the garden – even the illusive grass snake.

But in the next poem, written from the perspective of the “final hedgehog left on earth”, Pam Ayres stresses why you should always check your brash pile/bonfire before lighting it!

“Farewell, farewell for what its worth,
from the final hedgehog left on earth.
My cousin Henry, young and bright,
went up in flames on bonfire night”

Full of humour but some very important messages, this poem is well worth a listen!
Poem running time: 15:51 – 18:21

Living a rural life, in a small country village, Pam Ayres loves to spend a Sunday sat in her favourite seat by the fire in the local pub. Nevertheless, in her final poem she eloquently explains the one thing she really does not like about this pub – it’s so funny, so well written, I can definitely say, it’s worth a listen!
Poem running time: 20:44 – 22:25

James Rebanks – RGS

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‘What can we do to make things better?’

Continuing some of the highlights of the 25th Anniversary at the Royal Geographical Society, today we look at James Rebanks spoke about how he has changed his farm and continued traditional farming methods to increase the biodiversity calling it home.

Inspired by his late father’s love of the farming, land and love of nature, James Rebanks recalls a pivotal memory where his father that sparked his venture from the ‘new type of farming’ to the more traditional.

It was amazing to hear the variation in habitat that Mr Rebanks allows to flourish on his farm. One of his proudest achievements he discussed is the 200 different species of plant on his meadows. However, as he stated “it’s a sobering to realise that when I’ve restored those meadows in about 5 years’ time, they will amount to 1% upland meadows in the British Isles…” how is it that there is only approximately 2300 hectares left across the country?

He also described how, clearing the river banks on his farm caused “an explosion of voles” which ultimately brought back the Barn Owls! During his talk he mentioned many specialists that have visited his farm and the wealth of different species they have found, including Cain Scrimgeour who counted as defined by Mr Rebanks as “a zoo of moths”!


Another topic that featured in his talk was the need for education; the farmers need to be taught how to look after the wildlife. “We’re not going to conserve anything unless we start educating an enormous amount of people like me that didn’t know enough 10 years ago, but need to know a lot more to look after things properly… I’ve known farmers that have been in environmental schemes for 30/40 years and haven’t got a clue!”.

Through this video you can see the passion James Rebanks has for his farm and the natural world around it.

Zac Goldsmith MP – RGS

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“I think its people like Robin that make the world a better place.”

Just over a month since the 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Thursday 1st November – where has that month gone? The festive season is almost upon us!

This week we are highlighting some of brilliant talks given on the day. Some poignant, some funny, some alarming – all these talks convey the passion of those who directly or indirectly, work with the CRT to make the countryside and ultimately the planet a better place!

In this video we listen to Zac Goldsmith MP’s opening speech where he highlights how inspiring Robin Page’s passion truly is. He describes Robin Page as a ‘hero’! And it was because of this hero that inspired Zac Goldsmith to become involved with the CRT.

Mr Goldsmith also mentions quite alarming statistic that a child today is 3x mores likely to end up in hospital from falling out of bed than out of a tree! How can this be?! “We’re stripping nature of its value; we’re stripping children of their childhood.” The CRT’s education centres are more vital than ever – whilst children are on average spending 7 hours a day on a screen and NOT learning about the wonderful ecosystem the countryside, or even just their back garden has to offer!

Being one of the most controversial political upheavals in living history, of course, as an MP, Mr Goldsmith explained how “Brexit could provide us with that green dividend… how we could completely reform the way the common agricultural is organised” and the stark reality as to why it is not currently working.

“I see a hero…”

This opening speech truly portrays Zac Goldsmith’s admiration for Robin Page and how “[he] has been indescribably brave in pursuing his ambition for the CRT… because of him we have a holding bank of living, breathing, knowledge and skills. He’s shown us, not only how to reconcile farming with the natural world but why we have to absolutely do that.”

If you have 10 minutes spare, if didn’t get to go to the Royal Geographical Society, or even if you did, it’s definitely worth a watch!