Author Archives: Kathryn Mitchell

Counting Farmland Birds – getting involved in the Big Farmland Bird Count

Kathryn Mitchell, LEAF's IFM Development Manager

Kathryn Mitchell, LEAF’s IFM Development Manager

LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management Development Manager, Kathryn Mitchell, spent Tuesday morning spotting birds in a local field. It was all part of the first annual Big Farmland Bird Count, ending on 7th February. In this post, Kathryn gives an account of her experiences and some results she collected!

There is much talk of the decline in farmland birds across the UK, yet the fields don’t seem devoid of birdlife and many farmers do lots of good work to encourage wildlife, including birds. The Big Farmland Bird Count is a great chance to champion that and see what’s about on some fields near where I live.

Tuesday morning seemed one of the best mornings amongst a week of fairly wet weather. The dark cloud lifted to a beautiful sunny, if cold, morning and we set off with paper, pen, binoculars, camera and much appreciated provisions: tea and bacon sandwiches!

Big Farmland Bird Count

The Big Farmland Bird Count

Some less productive areas of the farm are now exclusively managed for wildlife purposes with fallow, wild bird cover, grass margins surrounded by hedges with some trees. The wildlife is always there, but our vehicle isn’t, so we took up our post early and paused for a while. A wonderful time to sit and watch the surroundings change with the light. So, onto the counting part: 30 minutes overlooking 2ha of wonderful Gloucestershire countryside.

Whilst some of the species were easily identifiable by sight, backed up by their calls, we soon realised that whilst we could count, bird identification at a distance wasn’t our strong point! In addition to the pheasants, rooks, crows, pigeons (as well as hare and deer), we scribbled notes of descriptions and tried to remember the sounds.

It was a great to start to the morning!  Back in the LEAF office, following a short while with some farmland bird reference books, internet searches and phone calls, we’re much more confident that our ‘little brown birds’ are correctly identified as reed bunting, dunnock and many linnets.

Find out more about the Big Farmland Bird Count here >

2012 – not the wettest year?

Dave RobertsGuest post from Dr. David Roberts, Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries, Scotland – SRUC Dairy Research Centre, a LEAF Innovation Centre.

Crichton Royal Farm is a 252ha farm which, as the SRUC Dairy Research Centre, aims to develop, implement and provide information from sustainable breeding and management systems for dairy cattle. Some of the key objectives include finding ways to improve the health and welfare of UK dairy herds and measuring different systems’ effects on the environment.

Although 2012 was a very wet year with 1358mm of rain, there was actually more rain in 2011 (1433mm). Figure 1 shows the annual rainfall for the last 9 years. The average rainfall for the 33 years (1954 – 1986) was 1041mm, the average for the last 9 years has been 14% higher at 1189mm.

Figure 1

Figure 1

It is not just the monthly average which is important but the rainfall in any one day. The five highest rainfall days for 2012 were:

  • 11th October 34.7mm
  • 20th December 33.7mm
  • 24th September 30.6mm
  • 15th June 30.2mm
  • 24th December 29.9mm

There were another 9 days with over 20mm of rain. These are a long way short of the wettest day on record when almost 100mm of rain was recorded on 30th October 1977.

Comparing 2012 with 2011 (Figure 2) June onwards was wetter in 2012 but 2011 had a very wet January, February and May.

Figure 2

Figure 2

These variable weather patterns provide challenges for managing agricultural businesses. How will 2013 compare?

Mother Nature has always been unpredictable – whilst we can’t control her disposition or the effects thereof, there are certainly important lessons to be learnt from tracking weather patterns. The key thing is to ensure farmers are armed with the right tools to address these challenges through smarter, more integrated, management practices. Integrated Farm Management helps us do just this.

[Note: for an alternative viewpoint at Loddington, Leicestershire, please see Phil Jarvis' blog here - Met Office v Loddington

Practical Measures for Improving Water Quality – New videos available!

Farmers looking at ditch and sediment trapFollowing our Practical Measures for Improving Water Quality events at Midloe Grange Farm in Cambridgeshire (22nd March) and Stratton Farms in Somerset (28th March), videos filmed at the events are now available.

The videos, supported by Catchment Sensitive Farming, look at ways of improving how your farming practices impact water quality. Including:

  • Background information from Catchment Sensitive Farming on some of the issues of diffuse water pollution from agriculture through surface run-off
  • Interviews with LEAF Demonstration Farmers, David Felce and Jeremy Padfield, on the measures they have put in place on their farms to mitigate surface run-off

The videos are available below and on LEAF’s YouTube channel – subscribe to be the first to see LEAF’s new videos!

Sustainable, Profitable Potatoes

Recently, Philip Case wrote for Farmer’s Weekly on the recent comments from Eric Anderson, senior agronomist at Scottish Agronomy, about the carbon footprint of potato crops. Urging potato growers to look closely at their carbon footprint, by paying close attention to water and soil management can pay dividends for crop profitability.

We know of several LEAF members doing exactly this. Whitewater Potatoes Ltd. supply their LEAF Marque potatoes to Walkers amongst many more, below you can see Gavin Janaway of Lodge Farm (Whitewater Potatoes Ltd.) talking about sustainable potato farming for the PepsiCo UK sustainable farming report 2010.

Another leading example is Jon Hammond, of T Hammond & Sons, a fresh produce grower on the outskirts of Nottingham producing potatoes among a variety of other crops. Using the LEAF Audit, they have been prompted into introducing trickle irrigation systems and seen a 30% reduction in water use.

T Hammond & Sons are currently planning a major development that will result in a fully sustainable manufacturing facility and fleet of vehicles that run on Bio Diesel.As Eric Anderson has pointed out, there are costs to be saved in looking at water and energy use, making a more profitable crop. The Hammonds have developed an energy policy which looks to save costs and reduce environmental impact. They’ve introduced boreholes and cold stores, use light sensors and produce a range of farm grown sustainable fuels to reduce their carbon footprint. They now run five vehicles and produce power for the packing plant on pure plant oil. Minimising environmental change is central to their business plan, of which LEAF membership, in particular the LEAF Marque, is key.

Producing potatoes, or any produce, sustainably is essential for the future of your business and for the environment. It’s a rising challenge which LEAF members like Jon and Gavin are tackling head on. Anthony Goggin, LEAF Marque Technical Manager, has recently been at some of the regional potato days and will be attending the East England and North England days in September – get in touch if you would like to meet up with him.

Strengthening Our European Links

It was great to get together with some of our European EISA partners earlier this month for a two day study tour to the UK.  Representatives from Germany, France, Luxembourg and Austria and the European Crop Protection Agency (ECPA) joined us in the East of England for a busy two days of farm tours, discussion and lively debate. Continue reading

Come and see us at Cereals!

Preparations are well underway ahead of Cereals 2011 on the 15-16th June. The event is at Boothby Graffoe, Lincolnshire this year and you can find us on stand C432.

Please pop in and say hello. Find out more about our new Simply Sustainable Soils brochure – including live drop shatter tests with leading soils expert Dr Alastair Leake, Chairman, Soil Management Initiative, on the stand from 1 pm each day. Learn about what LEAF  can do for you and your business and all our activities and opportunities including the LEAF Audit, Green Box, LEAF Marque, Demonstration Farms, Let Nature Feed Your Senses, and much more.

We look forward to seeing you all and hearing your Open Farm Sunday stories.

Simply Sustainable Soils: Monitoring earthworms

This week we have launched ‘Simply Sustainable Soils‘ in partnership with Asda, a hands-on guide to help farmers get the most out of their soil, looking at soil texture, structure, drainage, compaction, nutrients and biological health. Continue reading

LEAF Demonstration Sites, Summer Event

LEAF Demonstration Farmers, Innovation Centre representatives and LEAF supporters, gathered together last week for our annual summer training event, based this year near Bristol. Continue reading

LEAF’s Technical Field Day at Harper Adams

Harper Adams UC hosted it’s first Technical Field Day, in conjunction with LEAF and sponsored by BOCM Pauls, DairyCo and Väderstad. Continue reading