Over 25 landowners recently attended a farm demo event to find out how they can help wildlife thrive on their farms.

The initiative was organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Northern Ireland (RSPB NI) and hosted by Jack Kelly’s family, which owns an arable farm near Downpatrick, Co. Down.

The farm incorporates a hay meadow, spring-sown cereals, grazed pastures, peas and beans and has been in previous agri-environment schemes. This year it was accepted into the new Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) scheme.

Jack and his family have been helping birds and other wildlife in a variety of ways. These include: leaving some cereal fields unploughed to provide overwintering stubbles; having wild bird cover to provide an abundant supply of seed throughout these winter months; and ensuring well-managed hedgerows – hedgerows in a good triangular or ‘A’-shaped structure that are cut on a rotation of every two to three years.

Field margins – which can be rough grass, pollen and nectar or annual wildflower margins – and a hay meadow on the Kelly farm also ensure that there is plenty of food and nesting sites available in summer.

One success has been the comeback of the yellowhammer, now a red-listed species of conservation concern. Over the past three years, RSPB surveys have shown that the yellowhammer territories on the farm have increased from four to 10, demonstrating that applying these wildlife-friendly farm practices has helped this bird species recover.

Those attending were treated to the sight and sound of yellowhammers and also saw tree sparrows and linnets making use of the seed available throughout the farm. Such birds are finding it increasingly difficult to find sufficient quantities of seed which they need to survive, so they need help, according to RSPB NI.

The farm demo event included a guided walk and a presentation by the Nature Friendly Farming Network, a group of farmers who have come together to champion a way of farming which is sustainable and good for nature.

Sean Woods, conservation advisor with RSPB NI, said that the Kelly farm provides a perfect working example of how farmers can make a huge difference for wildlife when applying agri-environment measures.

It was fantastic to see this event so well attended and clearly demonstrates the appetite for nature-friendly farming in the area.

RSPB NI provides free farmland bird surveys and management advice to farmers across east Down. For more information, contact RSPB NI Conservation Advisor Sean Woods on: 028-9049-1547 or email: [email protected].