By Cris Sellarés
In early 2013 a joint sponsorship granted funds for the purchase of bird-conservation crops to be planted by potato farmers for a trial scheme to provide many Jersey birds with a source of food throughout the coldest months of the year.
Habitat restoration is at the core of BIRDS ON THE EDGE which is working to identify sites of high importance to birds and other wildlife in Jersey and to provide independent advice and support to funding applications that will increase the value to wildlife of these sites. Examples of wildlife-friendly management include hedge-planting and restoration, enhancement of boundaries, planting of insect and bird-conservation crops, bracken clearance and scrub management.
Aims of the trial scheme
- To provide a source of winter food for farmland birds in the north coast from 2013, especially for skylarks, buntings, greenfinches, linnets and others;
- To test the productivity of two similar bird-conservation crop mixes against a variety of field characteristics such as slope, aspect, geology and boundaries;
- To test the responsiveness of local wildlife, especially bird species, to crop type and land characteristics;
- To assess the results of the trial in accordance with verbal agreements between each participating farmer and the scheme;
- To offer the farmers an economic stimulus to help them to opt for a wildlife-friendly management of their land.
In February 2013, as part of the BIRDS ON THE EDGE management plan, 181 fields were surveyed north of the coast road between Sorel Point and Grève de Lecq.
Of these, 18 fields were found suitable to be tried with bird-conservation crops, through a combination of favourable characteristics such as: good boundaries in the form of hedges, main crop type, distance from the sea cliffs, slope, geology and vicinity to buildings, amongst others.
The Project Officer approached the owners and tenants of these fields to discuss the trial scheme and, over a series of meetings, learned about the management regime of the fields and each farmer’s preference for conservation crops. At the end of the discussions the final number of suitable fields was brought down to 15, representing a combined area of 55 vergées and 24 perches (10ha).
At the same time that the trial scheme was taking shape, a sponsorship opportunity arose in the form of two private donors. The combined donation has allowed the trial scheme to be launched, covering the cost of the bird-conservation crops that will be planted on the 15 chosen fields.
All the owners and tenants of the fields accepted to include them in the trial scheme, which will involve the farmers receiving the crop seeds free of charge and sowing them in the fields once the potatoes have been harvested. The progress of the crop and its utilisation by birds and other wildlife will be monitored throughout the year. All participating farmers further offered to look after the features most suitable for wildlife, in particular to leave the margins or headlands next to the best hedges unploughed.
Thanks to the generosity of the two sponsors the 10 new hectares of land in the trial will join the existing nine hectares of bird-conservation crops that the National Trust for Jersey has managed in the north coast since 2012, instantly doubling the area of land where birds can feed from. We hope that this will help them to survive the winter months and will boost the populations of those bird species locally endangered.