As you leave the riverside to cross Great Cheveney Farm, the field on your left is a conservation crop that has been sown to provide seed for birds in the winter. It includes quinoa, millet, wheat and linseed. It will be supplemented with additional seed put out from January to March. Without it, many birds starve because natural food has run out by then. As well as yellowhammers, linnets, reed buntings, chaffinches and (from Scandinavia in a hard winter) bramblings may be seen here in large flocks during cold weather.
It is important to keep disturbance to a minimum by staying on the footpath, with your dog close by you. In the winter, if their feeding is interrupted, birds may not survive the long cold nights. In the summer, birds’ nests and their young in the wide field margins are vulnerable to predators when the parents are disturbed.
Where the path passes the small wood on the left, the field on your right is also becoming a conservation area. The 2021 crop in the field is oilseed rape. The oil is used for human consumption, and to provide animal feed and bio-diesel for cars. Bees in particular are attracted to the flowers, and some bird species benefit too. Linnets gather the soft, milky unripe rapeseeds to feed their chicks; you may see them doing this throughout the summer.
After the rapeseed has been harvested, a conservation crop of grass and wildflowers will be planted. This will provide nectar and pollen for insects in the summer. The insects will be a major food source for birds feeding young, and for bats. The field won’t be ploughed before planting the conservation crop – this will avoid releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or damaging the soil structure. Bare patches of soil will be left around the edge of the crop for birds to forage for seed and insects. In the spring we hope the bare patches will be used by turtle doves to find wildflower seeds. Turtle doves are threatened with extinction, but Marden still has a good population, so if you see or hear one, please report it on our Marden Wildlife Facebook page or www.mardenwildlife.org.uk
As the path leaves this field look to your right along the low hedgerow along its edge. This is where yellowhammers nest. Listen out in the summer for their ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeese’ song. The singing bird may be on the top of the bush half-way along. The wide grassy margin alongside the hedge is important as it provides cover for their nests, constructed in vegetation close to the ground, and insects to feed their young. Please keep your dog close by you to avoid disturbing them.