Winter feeding to help birds through 'the hungry gap'
Farmers around Selborne in East Hampshire are helping farmland birds through 'the hungry gap' this winter through a supplementary feeding programme. The Selborne Landscape Partnership (SLP) in East Hampshire is a group of farmers and land managers working together to benefit wildlife.
This winter, the SLP is busy planning a supplementary feeding programme to help farmland birds at a time of year when they need it most. The Hampshire branch of the NFU has grant- aided the purchase of 40 songbird feeders which are being distributed among farmers within the partnership.
Seed eating birds can often struggle to find sufficient food during late winter and early spring (between January and April). This period is often referred to as the ‘hungry gap’ when seed is in short supply.
By spreading seed regularly during this period, birds such as the yellowhammer are supported at a time when natural seed sources are depleted and as they begin to prepare for the breeding season.
Seed is fed normally once a week either in feeders known as ‘hoppers’ or spread on the ground. It can consist of wheat, oilseed rape, linseed, millet, sunflower and canary seed. Specialist seed is purchased by the farmer from a seed supplier, whilst seed such as wheat and oilseed rape is usually already grown on the farm. The amount of seed fed varies from 10-25kg per week. A single hopper can hold 20kg of seed.
Winter supplementary feeding works well in tandem with the conservation crops planted by farmers as winter bird food. These conservation crops look very different to the usual commercial arable crops which only contain one species. Wild bird seed crops grown in plots of up to one hectare in size contain a variety of seed producing plants such as sun flowers, kale, radish, teasel and millet as well as cereals such as triticale and rye. They produce a variety of seeds and are left unharvested for birds to feed on throughout the winter months. However, these plots often become bare and exhausted by the end of December and this is when the feed hoppers will be put out into the fields, providing an extended food supply until the end of winter.
This project sits alongside other measures that farmers are taking throughout the year, ensuring farmland birds have suitable nesting places, cover, shelter and foraging places they can use during summer when feeding their chicks.