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Welcome to Kings' October e-newsletter. This edition advises on the benefits of autumn sown wild bird seed mixes, encourages growers to take part in the Big Farmland Bird Count, reiterates the importance of supplementary feeding, explains how to improve soil health and introduces me, Neil Harris, as the latest guest editor of Kings news.

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Neil Harris

Kings western technical advisor

Added benefits with autumn sown wild bird seed mixes

Aenews Oct16 wbsmutumn sown wild bird seed mixes can provide a variety of benefits that more conventional spring sown mixtures may struggle to provide. Although cover will be sparse over the winter, the following spring will see these mixes provide excellent cover and nesting habitat for grey partridge and other game birds and an important sanctuary from birds of prey when cover is at a real premium. The open structure will also allow some low growing weeds such as speedwells, madders, pimpernels and field pansies to flourish, providing nectar sources for a variety of invertebrates. The crop itself will contain flowering species such as brassicas which will also encourage invertebrates into the crop, providing ideal feeding sites for game bird chicks.

Autumn sown mixes can also provide a last resort option when wild bird seed mixes have failed and it’s too late for summer rescue mixes. Seek expert advice on the options available, timings and establishment and consult your Natural England advisor if this is part of an agri-environment scheme. 

Take part in the Big Farmland Bird Count 2017

enews Oct16 bfbcThe fourth Big Farmland Bird Count will take place from Friday 3rd to Sunday 12th February 2017.

Organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in recognition of the vital role farmers and gamekeepers play in the survival of farmland birds, the count aims to record the effect of conservation schemes. It also gives growers valuable insight into how birds are faring on their land.

Last year over 970 farmers took part, recording 130 species of over 91,000 birds across around 900,000 acres. Full results are available here.

To help those taking part in the next count, GWCT is running a series of farmland bird ID days. A free colour farmland bird ID guide can also be downloaded from the site. Click here for more details.

GWCT also runs a long term partridge count scheme, involving counting once in spring to measure breeding abundance and once in autumn to measure breeding success. Find out more, sign up and request the free newsletter at 

Supplementary winter feeding

enews Oct16 supp feedFarmland birds still face a major problem during the ‘hungry gap’, when seed sources in wild bird seed mixes have run out. This period runs from around January until April in an average year. Supplementary feeding with a mixture of wheat, oilseed rape and other small seeds, like millets and canary seed, provides essential nutrition to enable small birds to survive even harsh winters.

Supplementary feeding is a grant aided option in existing agri-environment schemes, paying between £630/t and £822/t depending on the scheme. Payment is based on a requirement to have 2 hectares of wild bird seed mix per tonne of supplementary feeding.

Consideration should be given to the type of seed in the mixture. For example, seed grade millets do not run the risk of introducing rogue millet species (barnyard grass, foxtail millet) onto the farm which could be found as contaminates in feed grade millets. Speak to your Kings advisor to identify the best mix for your own situation. 

How healthy is your soil?

Wenews Oct16 green coverith harvest over and higher rainfall likely in the coming months, the risk of soil erosion becomes increasingly apparent. This can be reduced by improving soil health.

Microbial activity is a key measure of soil health. A varied and dynamic soil biota is important as microbes interact with crop roots, increasing the crop’s ability to take up nutrients and water. To sustain this activity requires organic matter, levels of which have dipped in many soils. Cover crops have become a popular option to help redress the balance.

Soil health and water quality are key drivers of the Countryside Stewardship scheme, which can pay £114/ha for green cover. These crops help to prevent soil loss through the wetter winter months, increase organic matter and microbial activity and help to break up compaction too. The buffering of watercourses with grass margins helps protect them from inputs and pasture adjacent to watercourses can also be entered into a low input grassland option, reducing the potential of fertiliser getting into the watercourse and serving to protect against soil erosion.

Accompanied by expert guidance, Frontier’s Soil Life report on soil’s physical, biological and chemical status can also be used to inform and develop a bespoke action plan to help soils fulfil their potential. For further advice, speak to your local Kings advisor. 

Meet Neil Harris

enews Oct16 Neil HarrisAs growers prepare to reap the rewards of their carefully established game crops, cover crops and stewardship mixes, I share a bit about my involvement as Kings’ western technical advisor.

“I joined Kings in January 2016, having spent 14 years working for Natural England and its predecessors as a technical advisor. Moving from the public sector to the private sector had its own challenges and I soon found myself in at the deep end with the busy spring planting season, when growers’ requirements for sound technical advice on planting conservation and game plots is at its highest. This was just the beginning, as Kings provides expert advice and seed recommendations for a wide range of specialist crops which keeps me busy all year round.

My specialist area of knowledge is agri-environment schemes and this has been put to good use this year drawing up numerous Mid Tier Countryside Stewardship schemes for growers. Though the application window for this year recently closed, I’m already working with growers on planning for their 2017 applications.

I keep up to date with conservation matters through membership of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and use this knowledge to assist growers in compiling and managing their schemes and making sense of the legislative requirements that surround them.”

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