A lack of winter seed food is the main cause of declines in many seed-eating farmland birds.
By tolerating the growth of broad-leaved weeds within a fodder crop and allowing them to set seed, it is possible to provide a seed-rich food resource for birds while still growing a good fodder crop.
Tolerating some broad-leaved weeds in brassica and root crops (such as swede, turnips, fodder rape or kale) will provide benefits for wildlife. This allows an understory of broad-leaved weeds to grow for wildlife, while still allowing a productive crop to develop.
A lack of winter seed food is the main cause of declines in many seed-eating farmland birds such as grey partridge, linnet and yellowhammer. By tolerating the growth of broad-leaved weeds within a fodder crop and allowing them to set seed, it is possible to provide a seed-rich food resource for birds while still growing a good fodder crop. Research has shown that brassica and root crops can hold higher densities of seed-eating farmland birds than cereal stubbles. Broad-leaf weeds typical of fodder crops such as fat hen, hemp nettle and redshank are a highly valued source of seed food for birds.
Beneficial insects will feed on annual plants and the winter stubble can provide stems for them to over-winter in. Brassica and root crops also provide cover for wildlife such as brown hare and game birds through the winter.
Assess whether any weed control is needed when establishing a brassica fodder crop. Brassica and root crops are good competitors with weeds once established, and moderate weed levels later in the year have little effect on yield. If comprehensive weed control is required, consider leaving small strips or corners of the cultivated field unsprayed (or even unsown) to provide sacrificial weedy areas.
Crops established by sowing into a cultivated seed bed have greater value for wildlife than those established by spraying off grassland with a broad-spectrum herbicide and direct drilling into the desiccated sward.
Crops grown in a rotation with grassland are best fitted between relatively short-term grass leys as most arable plants need regular opportunities to germinate if they are to persist.
Avoid growing fodder crops in fields prone to soil erosion. Consider maintaining a wide grass buffer strip alongside any watercourses and maintaining areas liable to soil erosion as grassland.
Some birds prefer to forage in the cover of the crop, while others prefer bare ground with seeds left on the surface. Strip grazing can open up fresh ground regularly for birds to forage. To reduce the risk of soil erosion, consider strip grazing down slope, limiting points of access and providing run-back areas.
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