Conservation Farming Plain Road

Mar 25, 2022

This field was planted in spring 2022 with a crop of mixed plants to provide a winter food source for birds and to improve the soil. This photo by Mark Seymour shows what it looked like in August.

It is an example of the extensive, balanced conservation farming emerging around Marden. Much is rightly made of the need for food production, but this can only be done in a healthy, biodiverse environment, not by applying yet more tonnes of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. The field is poor quality land that requires significant chemical input even for a modest food crop, resulting in CO2 emissions from their manufacture and chemical pollution from run-off into local waterways. There are plants in this mixture that actually fix nitrogen in the soil, improving its natural fertility. Many are deep rooted, which is why they looked so good despite the dry summer. These mine water and nutrients and, because of their deep and extensive root system, allow rain to permeate, increasing drought resistance and reducing run-off.

The supply of seeds is vital to support farmland birds through the winter when natural food is scarce. Stand still and watch. If it’s a cold morning, Yellowhammers, Linnets, Reed Buntings and Greenfinches could be feeding in flocks many hundred strong. The hedges around the field are managed to provide plenty of cover for the birds so they can escape to safety if Sparrowhawks or Kestrels are about.

You may be lucky enough to see Tree Sparrows or Corn Buntings. They are now rare, but we still have them in Marden. Flocks of Bramblings that have escaped the harsh weather in Scandinavia could be seen too.

In the summer, the long, tangled vegetation at the base of the hedges make them ideal for birds, mice and voles to nest in. Yellowhammers and tiny Chiffchaffs nest on or close to the ground. Harvest mice build their nests of dry grass around the fields too. Please tread carefully and keep to the path. A bird frightened from its nest by walkers, or a dog may be spotted by predators that will then plunder its nest.

Some of the plants sown will still produce seed in a second winter. The field won’t look so attractive to us then – but it will to the birds!

The benefits for wildlife are obvious. Equally importantly, from the wide range of wildlife-friendly farming being adopted locally, the increase in pollinating insects and those that predate agricultural pests improves the yields in fields where food is grown for human consumption.

So, it’s win-win – and having it on our doorstep is hugely more uplifting than a field of cabbages!

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