Red List Bird Species found at The Hawthorns

December 11, 2012

Following from the previous article which provided an introduction to the RSPB Volunteer and Farmer Alliance Project 2012 at The Hawthorns, this report is going to review some of the Red List Bird Species identified during the survey.  The Red status birds are those of high conservation concern and are species which have undergone more than a 50% decline in UK breeding population or range over the last 25 years, a historical decline from 1800-1995, or are species of global conservation concern. The RSPB also uses the amber status and green status lists but the species that cause most concern are those on the red list.

Ten Red status birds were identified at The Hawthorns during the survey.

The list comprises of:

Cuckoo, Dunlin, House sparrow, Lapwing, Linnet, Skylark, Song thrush, Starling, Yellow wagtail, Cirl bunting and Yellowhammer.

One of the reasons to account for the range of bird species on the farm is that many species rely on well-managed hedgerows and scrub habitats. Wide field margins are vital for birds to find insects to feed their young in spring and summer. The margins here at The Hawthorns demonstrate an excellent insect source through the number of species present, notably the whitethroat (amber species), yellowhammer (red species) and the willow warbler (amber species).

It was exciting to note that lapwings (or peewits, as they are sometimes called) which are red species were present on the farm. Lapwings look black and white at a distance but in good light it can be seen that they have a greeny purple sheen on their back. The male is characterised by having a spiky crest on his head.  In the breeding season lapwings prefer spring sown cereals, root crops, permanent unimproved pasture, meadows and fallow fields. They can also be found on wetlands with short vegetation.

Linnets were shown and briefly discussed in the last article about the RSPB Volunteer and Farmer Alliance Project 2012. They also belong to the red status bird list. The male linnet has a pinky patch on his head and breast during the breeding season. They are very dependent on seeds and even feed seeds to their small chicks. Oil seed rape which is grown on the farm provides a major food source for these birds and fallow areas can also form valuable seed sources. Wild bird seed cover which can be found on the farm is also enjoyed by these birds. Linnets like to nest in areas of scrub or thorny hedges which includes brambles.

The pictures shown here are again taken from the RSPB website.

Farmland Birds at The Hawthorns

September 20, 2012

The Hawthorns took part in the RSPB Volunteer and Farmer Alliance Project 2012 this summer. This was undertaken by a local RSPB volunteer and provided a survey of the birds breeding on the farm. The project began in 1999 and now over 6,000 farms in the country have been surveyed providing a wealth of information to the RSPB and farmers. The RSPB volunteer is provided with training so that the surveys can be conducted with confidence and then carries out three or four early morning surveys between April and June.

The RSPB volunteer called at the farm one evening to discuss the area of the farm, studied maps and took advice as to where the most habitat rich locations were situated. He then outlined that he would be undertaking three or four (very) early morning surveys. After each survey we would be provided with a species list of birds spotted that day. At the end of the survey period the results would be analysed and a map produced showing the location and behaviour of the birds seen throughout the project. The results are made available for conservation purposes and help contribute towards the Bird Conservation Targeting Project (BCTP) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) atlas.

To date results have shown that Environmental Stewardship for birds has resulted in a drop in the decline for farmland species in the local area.

It was encouraging to see that some of the bird species were seen and heard on all of the four survey visits this included Blackbirds, Blackcaps, Blue tits, Buzzards, Carrion Crows, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Dunnock, Great tits, Greylag Geese, Lapwings ,Linnets, Mallards, Robins, Skylarks, Stock Doves, Swallows, Whitethroats, Wood pigeons, Wrens and Yellowhammers.

The RSPB website is very useful and can help you identify birds by using the following web link

Here is a brief overview of some of the species noted above.


Male                                                      Female

Blackcaps are more or less resident in this area of the country. They tend to favour sites that have woodland and dense undergrowth including areas of scrub. The male Blackcap has a particularly attractive song.


Male                                                      Female

The chaffinch is one of the most common birds found in Britain and Ireland; nevertheless it is still a joy to see around the farm. It is able to live in a wide range of habitats and can often be heard if not seen.


Chiffchaffs are quite small birds, usually being about 11cm in length. They are most distinguishable by their song and their dark coloured legs. Chiffchaffs like habitats with trees and shrubs.


Male                                                        Female

Male linnets acquire pinky patches on their head and breast during the breeding season but loses the colour in the winter months. They belong to the finch family and are a common resident in this area.


Male                                                      Female

The whitethroat can often be seen between May and September and is characteristic of scrub, hedgerows and bramble covered ares. They eat insects and berries and overwinter in Africa.

The pictures shown here were taken from the RSPB website. The results here form a small part of the RSPB Volunteer and Farmer Alliance Project 2012 at The Hawthorns. More information on the bird survey and species identified on the farm will be released in a short time.

Claydon Straw Rake to Improve Weed and Slug Control?

August 7, 2012

The past five years have been a great learning curve for us in how to direct drill crops and avoid moving too much soil.  In fact it is the complete opposite of the previous farming system where the plough was used to move top 6-9 inches of soil across the whole field.  Some farmers refer to direct drilling as ‘zero tilling’ though it does depend on the drill used.  The following two links are useful: and

The decision not to invert the soil does lead to problems with what to do with the crop residue left after combining, particularly in Oil Seed Rape where the straw was baled.

Crop residue after harvest

Crop residue after harvest

In wet years slugs can rapidly multiply under the straw and stubble left behind.  Slugs can cause massive damage to young plants or even crop failure.  Control is mainly achieved through using slug pellets though rolling the seedbed after drilling will help. A second problem is trying to get weed seed to chit so that they can be controlled.

Slug in crop residue

Slug in crop residue

Straw harrowing is a fast and very low cost operation that can be used just once or a number of times to create a micro-tilth for fast weed germination, hoe out weeds and kill slugs before drilling whilst retaining the moisture, organic matter and structure in the soil.  The picture below is the first time the rake is used on the farm.

New rake being used on Oil Seed Rape Stubble after baling

New rake being used on Oil Seed Rape Stubble after baling

The aim is to move the residue, and create enough tilth for weed seeds to germinate. The harrow levels straw and damages slug nests and their eggs, moving straw trash and drying out the slug nests

The harrow encourages weed seeds to germinate at the top of the soil, giving fast & even germination and a great kill strike rate from re-harrowing or spraying.  Below shows the split in the field where the rake has been used and has still to pass.

Rake pass moves the crop residue

Rake pass moves the crop residue

We hope the rake will result in a relatively cheap way of reducing the cost of slug and weed control.

Adding Value To Locally Produced Oilseed Rape

March 19, 2012

Oilseed Rape is a very useful break crop grown by British farmers.  The yellow flowering plant is very distinctive, making large patches of yellow in the countryside in the late Spring and early Summer.  The oilseeds are stored on farm and then sent for processing.  The oil produced can be used in products such as biodiesel or used for cooking (R-Oil is a local well known brand).  It is important when storing OSR to achieve the right temperature (between 5 – 8 degrees Celcius), moisture (between 7  – 9 percent) and less than 2 percent admixture. The HGCA produce an excellent summary – ‘Grain storage guide for cereals and oilseeds‘.   However the process of storing OSR starts far earlier than achieving the right conditions in store.

OSR is usually desiccated whilst in the field.  This ensures that the crop dies off at the same time so should result in an even, dry, ripe field to harvest with the combine.  The combine should be set up to remove most of the straw, pods and weed seeds so that when the OSR arrives to be sampled before going into storage it has less than 2 percent admixture.  Sampling trailers is difficult due to access problems and ensuring a representative sample is obtained.  OSR testing and drying equipment is expensive and therefore a grant was applied for and awarded.

Project part financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development 2007-2013: Europe investing in rural areas

A grant was received to assist towards the OSR sampling, testing and drying equipment.  The project was delivered through the South West of England Development Agency with Defra as the Managing Authority.

OSR sampling on intake

Each year the facilities and the protocols and procedures are inspected and certificated by NSF-CMI under the GTAS Scheme.

Does Direct Drilling Pay?

January 2, 2011

If there was only one correct way to establish wheat, every arable grower would do the same thing.  As it is, each farmer has adapted the cultivation and drilling equipment and techniques used to suit the soil, climate and topography of the individual farm.

When we set off down the direct drill route (a radical change from ploughing and following with a powerharrow / drill combination) there was always the nagging doubt or fear of exchanging a proven system to one that may not work.  Those involved in agriculture in the 1970’s will remember the failed experiments with direct drilling.

Using the Christmas period to sit down and work out the costs for the last harvest (2010) has proved to be a useful experience if not necessarily giving the results we wanted.  On the positive side the Oil Seed Rape, Linseed and Winter Beans established well using the Claydon Direct Drill and we have no intention of using any other method.  Whilst Winter Linseed was a novel crop to us, the OSR and Beans yielded well and were above the 5 year average.  The wheat is more of a dilemma.

We compared the yield of 6 fields,  3 established via the direct drill and 3 using the traditional plough and powerharrow / combination route all growing a veriety called “Alchemy”.  This is not a scientific experiment, more of a back of an envelope job with numerous variables not accounted for.  However the yield benefit of ploughing appears to be 0.35t / ha which at £150 / tonne is approximately £52 / ha  (£21 / acre).  However was there a cost saving in using the direct drill to establish the wheat crop?  In our small sample of 6 fields the answer is “no”.  It appears that the savings of making only one pass with the drill was largely swallowed up in making two more passes with the sprayer (plus spray) and one more pass with the slug pellet applicator (plus pellets).  The final costing incurred appear almost identical.

Where does this leave the direct drill when establishing wheat?  This Autumn we established all our wheat using the direct drill save one field.

Drilling Wheat in Rape Volunteers 21/9/10

Drilling Wheat in Rape Volunteers 21/9/10 (Left undrilled / Right drilled)

Wheat established by Claydon

The wheat crop on the 11/11/10

It was a kind year to drill this time but it appears the soil OM and structure are changing for the better and should mean the yields improve.  Mistakes such as using low seed rates have been corrected.  In other words, we are confident enough in the system to keep trying.  Any suggestions for the perfect system would be most welcome.

Making the Health and Safety Promise

September 21, 2010

The HSE has launched a further phase of its ‘Make the Promise’ campaign. It is a year since the campaign started which urges farmers to be more accident aware and commit to themselves, family and the farm ‘to come home safely at the end of the day.’

Work on the farm, as with all modern day industries, is working to pressured time scales which makes you vulnerable when working with machinery and livestock.  In addition, there are often weather deadlines if it is harvest or planting, or bad weather means you have to work harder to feed the livestock, move fallen trees and work in the dark.  Some jobs are urgent because livestock are ill or machinery needs fixing.

Hawthorn Training is involved in the campaign through providing training on a number of SHADs – Safety, Heath and Awareness Days which operate around the country.  Farmers are encouraged to attend these events by HSE and in a morning or an afternoon will visit 5- 8 scenarios at one site on different aspects of agriculture.  The 20 minute presentations, led by Lantra Instructors include pesticide handling, working at heights, working with livestock and working with machinery.  It is an excellent forum for giving agricultural workers a nudge to remind them that their industry remains dangerous and life threatening. In addition, best practice can be discussed and demonstrated.

HSE is encouraging farmers to make or re-affirm ‘your promise’ so 2010 can be a safer year on farms. All farm workers at The Hawthorns have ‘Made the promise to come home safe.’ We sent for and have received a copy of ‘How lives are lost on British farms.’ This is a booklet that summarises some of the fatal incidents that occurred on farms between 2007 and 2009 including:

‘A 62 year old farmer was run over by a combine harvester driven by a worker. The combine became stuck in wet ground. The worker reversed it to drier ground and it struck the farmer who was behind the machine. The farmer suffered multiple injuries and died later in hospital.’

‘A 37 year old worker was entangled on an unguarded PTO shaft that connected a tractor to a slurry tanker. His arms were severed and he was found lying next to the PTO shaft.’

HSE have created the ‘Promise Knot,’ this is a knot of baler twine and is a simple reminder of the need to keep safety at the fore front of every operation on the farm.  We have placed these knots around the farm to help remind the farm workers to think twice and to come home safe.

A knot is placed in the tractor to remind drivers to ensure they have good visibility and to keep people and vehicles safely apart.

Another knot can be found near a field gate to remind everyone working with or around cattle to work using safe methods. Familiarity with livestock can be dangerous as it can lead to complacency and unexpected events can occur which unsettle the animals. It is better to have proper facilities and follow safe working practices than to trust livestock. In addition, a knot is located on the cattle crush in the handling shed. We were weighing the cattle today, a routine task but the livestock in unfamiliar surroundings get on edge and lose their footing easily. Measures are in place to ensure that workers and livestock are kept apart as much as possible but the potential for incidents is high.

The door to the grain shed is another danger zone where a knot has been fixed. Confined spaces such as the grain sheds could result in asphyxiation from lack of oxygen, drowning in the grain or risk of fire. It is important to receive training, have another person at the door, the right equipment available and know the emergency procedures for working in this situation.

The final knot has been placed on the pillar drill in the workshop.

What’s that blue crop growing in your field?

May 28, 2010

A few neighbours have stopped us and asked ‘What’s that blue crop growing in your fields?’ Well, it is linseed which is also sometimes known as flax. This year it is being used as a break crop instead of the usual oil seed rape or winter beans.

Linseed can be planted in the Autumn (Winter Linseed) or the Spring.  Historically, winter linseed has been quite a difficult and temperamental crop to grow because it is sensitive to the climate and could suffer badly in harsh winters but, if the winters are mild then often the crop becomes too thick.

The crop below was planted last Autumn and will be harvested on the farm this year, probably at the end of July or early August.

linseed - view from Newland bank

linseed - view from Newland bank

It was sown using the direct drill. It is a beneficial crop to grow on the farm as it allows the farmer to control some weeds more easily than in wheat, and should allow an easy low till entry into wheat.  Slugs do not appear to like linseed and no chemical pesticide control is normally required.

linseed flower

linseed flower

The yield for winter linseed should be in the range 2.5 – 3.5 t/ha (1.0 – 1.4 t/ac) however, as this is the first year we have grown the crop, we will have to wait and see if our expectations have been met.

Traditionally linseed has been grown because of the oil it produces; this is added to paints and varnishes and assists with the drying and hardening processes.  More recently linseed seeds are used in health foods because it is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega 3 and 6. It can also be added to animal feeds and has been woven to make a fabric.

linseed in flower

linseed in flower

The linseed plants can grow up to a metre tall but height is normally controlled to about 50cm.  Linseed produces very pretty, light blue flowers.


December 31, 2009

This is the start of a long story that will cause consternation to some farmers but bring a smile to the face of others.  It is a salutary lesson on how to keep a new daughter -in -  law  happy.

So, the story begins.  The farm has traditionally been a fattening unit.  Cattle are bought in either as young calves or animals that required fattening (stores).  They often come in batches of 20 -40 at a time. Sometimes the dealer buys fantastic looking stock that has been hand reared and are easy to handle. On other occasions the stock have been bought from the back of beyond and they are so and sos to get through the crush for injecting and weighing, or cause chaos when moving down the lane to a fresh field of grass.

Calf with mother on left (437 tag in her ear)

437 – or Henrietta as she later became known, was not an animal that had been hand reared, she came in a batch of 40 skitty Limousin cross steers and heifers.  They were moved to the far end of the farm into a field called Summer Meadow, it was the Summer of 2005.  Richard was on his morning routine check around the farm checking the cattle and he had to do a double take because he found a new born calf in the field of wild limousins.  This was unexpected news because the farm did not run a suckler herd and all of the cattle were destined for the beef  trade. In addition, the heifers were only about 15 months old and therefore if they had given birth, this meant they had been served by a bull at the age of 9 months which is not good practice nor beneficial to the heifer.

Suprising news, but quite exciting to find a calf on the farm.  Chris and I were off to the Three Counties Show that weekend (but that is another story) and had to pass Summer Meadow to get to the show.  On the way to the show, Chris suggested we went and had a look at the calf ( I am sure this was to cut down the amount of shopping time I would have). We must have hunted around the field for over an hour looking for this calf pacing up and down like a police line out, but found nothing.  A little heavy hearted, Chris said the calf must have died in the hedge so we carried onto the Three Counties Show.  Fortunately, when we returned the next day we found the young calf.

First Crop Leaves The Hawthorns

September 22, 2009

The first load of Oil Seed Rape left the farm today. It was collected by a haulage company acting for United Oilseeds.  The rape seed which are small and dark purple / black in colour comes from the bright yellow plant which can be seen flowering in late April to early May.  It is a member of the Brassica family (like mustard and cabbage.)

Oil Seed Rape being loaded onto a lorry

Oil Seed Rape being loaded onto a lorry

Loading OSR

Last Tip so Scrumpy the dog is off home for breakfast

Oil Seed Rape is grown on the farm because it provides a useful break crop meaning it helps to get rid of the weeds and pests for the subsequent crop of wheat.  Oil Seed Rape has been planted at The Hawthorns since 1995 and is grown in each field every four years.  It is sown in the Autumn (though there are varieties for Spring planting) and is one of the first crops to be harvested on the farm in late July.  This year the crop was established for the first time using the Claydon Drill (see previous blogs).  The area planted was 97 hectares yielding an average of 3.7 tonnes / hectare this harvest.  The price received for a tonne of rape varies daily but is currently about £220 / tonne ex farm.  The rape seeds produce an oil that is used in cooking, food processing and animal feed. It is also processed for use as biodiesel.

First Year of Claydon Drill

August 16, 2009

In Autumn2008 we took the plunge and purchased a Claydon Drill.  The move from using a plough and powerharrow/drill combination to Direct Drilling was quite a radical step not least because the previous attempt at Direct Drilling in the 1970’s was not successful (as my father has pointed out on more than one occasion).  The move to Direct Drilling was partly due to reduce the number of field operations and thereby lowering costs but also an attempt to improve soil structure.  The farm is predominately heavy clay and any machinery passing over the soil will cause compaction.  Compaction will often lead to water logged soils and poor root penetration and result in a loss of yield.  The theory is that by avoiding ploughing and breaking down the soil with a power harrow, the Direct Drill will allow the soil to ’self structure’. However I don’t know if that theory works in practice.  I hope to monitor the soil structure and compare it with fields prepared under the old system to see if there is a difference. Ultimately the test will be crop yield.  If the yield of wheat harvested in lower under the Direct Drill system then the benefits of a reduced number of machinery passes or improved soil structure will not be sustainable.

We started the wheat harvest yesterday and have combined 2 fields, one established by Direct Drilling and one by ploughing and then using a powerharrow / combination drill.  Both fields were planted to a wheat variety called ‘Battalion’, both were second wheats and both yielded 3.3 tonnes / acre.  Clearly not a scientific study but an encouraging result!!

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