With a little careful thought, farm buildings of any age can provide valuable nesting and roosting habitat for farmland wildlife.
Farm buildings can provide valuable nesting habitat for birds and roosting opportunities for bats in an agricultural landscape. Traditional buildings made from natural materials, such as stone walls and slate roofs, are often thought of as the most valuable for wildlife, but even modern buildings can be easily enhanced to provide valuable habitat features that would otherwise be scarce.
Many birds and bats make use of farm buildings for nesting and roosting. House martins and bats will take advantage of features such as eaves, while beams and ledges prove useful structures for swallows, barn owls and kestrels. Access to roof spaces and crevices in walls will be exploited by bats, spotted flycatchers, starlings and sparrows. Old traditional buildings may also be important for plants such as ferns, mosses and lichens, and numerous insects. Rubble and crevices within walls can provide important hibernation areas for amphibians and reptiles.
By enhancing farm buildings, opportunities for roosting, feeding and nesting can be improved for a variety of wildlife using the entire farm landscape.
The area around farm buildings also makes an important contribution to farm wildlife. Bats, swallows, house martins and wagtails seek insects attracted to manure heaps. Spilt grain and hayseeds provide food for sparrows, finches and yellowhammers, helping them survive through winter.
It is important to retain any existing wildlife features, particularly when renovation or restoration work is being undertaken on farm buildings. For example, avoid removing ferns and mosses from old walls and retain some cavities in any pointing work.
Make sure you are aware of features used by birds or bats for nesting or roosting before doing any work to the building. This will help you to avoid disturbing them, or damaging or destroying their roosts or nests. Local authorities have a legal responsibility to establish the presence of barn owls, bats, great crested newts and other protected species prior to building work. All 17 species of UK bat, and their roosts, are protected, making it illegal to disturb bats or damage or obstruct access to a bat roost without a licence. If you are unsure about the presence of bats or birds and their roosts or nests, or the presence of great crested newts, seek expert advice.
Newer buildings tend to offer fewer opportunities for wildlife. You could consider installing a range of bird and bat boxes, both inside and outside farm buildings, or incorporated into the building with entrance holes outside. Entrance holes are best faced towards undisturbed cover such as trees.
Bats will use a number of farm building features to roost in. A number of bats, including pipistrelles, will hide in crevices including under the cladding of old farm buildings or hollow breeze blocks in modern buildings, and are often present without anyone being aware of them as they are tucked away out of sight. Other bats such as the two horseshoe species and brown long-eared bats will roost in roof voids or on roof timbers and can be more noticeable. Look out for bats emerging at dusk on warm evenings and re-entering the roost at dawn, or for their characteristically crumbly droppings with semi-shiny fragments. If a building is not currently used by bats, consider installing bat boxes on walls near areas of known bat activity. Those on aspects most heated by the sun will be more likely to attract females during the summer.
Bats are cautious of flying in open areas, so having cover nearby can be helpful. They also prefer dark corridors to move from their roost and through the surrounding landscape, so the most suitable areas are those where the immediate access from the roost is unlit. Artificial lighting will prevent or significantly reduce the suitability of a roost.
Planting native trees in the vicinity of buildings and climbers such as ivy and honeysuckle adjacent to buildings can help blend buildings into the landscape and create opportunities for wildlife.
Providing food resources around the farmyard and good foraging habitat in the surrounding farmland will help species using the farmyard for nesting and roosting.
Consider allowing areas of rough grassland, weedy flowers or brambles to develop, as they can provide valuable food and shelter for birds and insects. Stone walls and sheltered sunny spots will be used by a variety of insects and reptiles for acquiring heat. Water can be especially attractive to wildlife. Reduce the chances of owls drowning in drinking tanks by floating a wooden plank or plastic tray.
Rats are less welcome in farm buildings. New ‘second generation’ rodenticides are much more toxic to wildlife such as birds of prey than warfarin so must be used with care by qualified personnel. Prevent access to bait by wildlife and regularly search for rodent bodies for safe disposal. After treatment, be sure to remove all remaining bait and bait containers. Always follow best-practice guidelines.
Here are some useful case studies and articles about how farmers are putting Farm Wildlife into practice on their farms
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