Case Study: Skylark Plots

Author: Ian Dillon
Farm: Grange Farm, Cambridgeshire

Aims:

We include two skylark plots per hectare in all winter cereal fields on the farm as an easy means of supporting skylark numbers on the farm.

Management:

In 2009, we trialled spraying out the plots, and found that they worked successfully for skylarks provided that they were sprayed before the end of December. From 2013 this will be the preferred way of creating them, as our contractor has changed to an 18m drill and is less able to create plots when drilling. It also means that the plots are exactly 4m x 4m and so we are taking less land out of production. The plots are sprayed out using a 36m boom sprayer which is pre-programmed to spray out the plots at specified locations within the fields.

Achievements:

The plots work extremely well for us, increasing skylark territories from 10 in 2000 to 43 in 2012. We have good crop yields (9 t/ha for winter wheat and 3.2/ha for oilseed rape), having been doing skylark plots for 12 years now.

Skylark numbers have increased by over 400% on the farm in the last 13 years, against a backdrop of continued decline in the East of England as a whole. Monitoring nesting success in the first three years of using skylark plots showed that the number of nesting pairs in fields with plots increased and the number of chicks that each pair rears also increased.

Image: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

2 thoughts on “Case Study: Skylark Plots

  1. Ian, that is really great to hear how well your skylark plots are working! A great testimony to how well conservation and farming can work together. I am currently working with an estate in Berkshire advising them about mitigation for loss of skylark and lapwing habitat due to the installation of a solar farm and skylark plots form a part of the plan. Can you just confirm that you have successfully used skylark plots in winter oil seed rape fields?

  2. Hi Adrian,

    Thanks for the very kind words.

    We don’t put skylark plots in oilseed rape fields here at Hope Farm, only in winter cereal fields. The original research that was done on skylark plots took place before I came to the farm but my memory from a discussion with one of the lead researchers then suggests that equivalent plots in an oilseed rape field would have to be much bigger than in a winter cereal field, and could act as ideal landing pads for woodpigeons. The potential size required and the woodpigeon element basically makes them unpalatable to most farmers.

    However, skylarks still use the OSR fields here especially in the spring before the canopy closes. Once the canopy closes they move to other fields of areas of the same field which has not developed so well.

    Overall, I would think that if a good rotation of crops is taking place then putting skylark plots in the winter cereal fields alone should be sufficient to stabilize or increase the breeding population on that farm. That way there will always be plots available on the farm for some of the skylarks to land in and feed happily.

    Good luck with the mitigation.

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