New Bird Species at Honeydale


Richard Broughton was at Honeydale this weekend conducting a bird survey, with very pleasing results - two new species were recorded at the farm: A pair of coots have arrived and are building a nest on the pond and a Sedge Warbler was seen singing next to the pond. This is further proof that the creation of the wetland area is really paying off; the number of breeding species has increased by around 15% in the few years it’s been there. Canada Geese are sitting on eggs on the small island, and there are at least two (maybe three) pairs of Reed Buntings nesting around the pond area. Moorhens are still present (Richard heard one calling from the sedges) and Mallard feathers are on the water, (and have bred in previous years). None of those species were present before, and their arrival is purely down to the wetland creation.


Elsewhere, there's a pair of Kestrels nesting in a broken Ash tree at the bottom of the sheep field (opposite corner from the pond). Also a pair of Red Kites are very much at home (probably non-breeding first-years - they don't generally breed until 2 yrs old), 4 Buzzards, 2 Yellow Wagtails and at least three Lesser Whitethroats (the highest total so far). Two Willow Warblers were also recorded - only the second sighting - although they were silent and probably passing through on migration.

Richard Broughton was at Honeydale this weekend conducting a survey, with very pleasing results - two new species were recorded at the farm: A pair of coots have arrived and are building a nest on the pond and a Sedge Warbler was seen singing next to the pond. This is further proof that the creation of the wetland area is really paying off; the number of breeding species has increased by around 15% in the few years it’s been there. Canada Geese are sitting on eggs on the small island, and there are at least two (maybe three) pairs of Reed Buntings nesting around the pond area. Moorhens are still present (Richard heard one calling from the sedges) and Mallard feathers are on the water, (and have bred in previous years). None of those species were present before, and their arrival is purely down to the wetland creation.


Elsewhere, there's a pair of Kestrels nesting in a broken Ash tree at the bottom of the sheep field (opposite corner from the pond). Also a pair of Red Kites are very much at home (probably non-breeding first-years - they don't generally breed until 2 yrs old), 4 Buzzards, 2 Yellow Wagtails and at least three Lesser Whitethroats (the highest total so far). Two Willow Warblers were also recorded - only the second sighting - although they were silent and probably passing through on migration.

Sowing Trees at Honeydale

Yesterday, Ian and Danny, Champion of Trees, were busy at Honeydale sowing half an acre of tree seeds, a project being run in conjunction with The Woodland Trust, Jenny Phelps from FWAGSW and Forestart, which specialises in seed collection from sources throughout Britain.


Jenny Phelps’s father and the Woodland Commission have previously experimented with this novel way of growing trees, which has several advantages over the traditional method of planting saplings. Firstly, seeds are collected from a wide genetic base, making the trees hardier and healthier. We’re also keen to find a different way of growing trees that doesn’t require plastic tree guards and gives a more natural scattered growth pattern, rather than the man made lines in which trees are usually planted.


A full list of the native species of tree seeds sown at Honeydale:
  • Common Oak (Quercus robur)
  • Mountain Ash/Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
  • Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica) 
  • Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
  • Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Crab apple (Malus sylvestris) 
  • Dog Rose (Rosa canina)
  • Field Maple (Acer campestre)
  • Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) 
  • Hazel (Corylus avellana)
  • Silver Birch (Betula pendula) 
  • Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana) 
In preparation, the field was ploughed in the winter and rotavated before the seeds were broadcast by hand and then rolled in. A magic ingredient is buckwheat which has been sown with the seeds and will act as a nurse crop. An annual plant, the Buckwheat will grow very quickly providing an umbrella shelter for the tree seedlings underneath. Predators will be deer and rabbits but we have deer fenced the area and will may have to put up a rabbit guard. 


At Cotswold Seeds we’re all about grass seed, so it’ll be wonderful to see trees grow from seeds too. We’ll be watching this space and reporting back on how they are faring.

How Beehives Survive Snow

We’re very pleased to report that our bees seem to have survived the Siberian blizzards and subzero temperatures that stuck the Cotswolds, as well as much of the rest of the country, earlier this month. We won’t be carrying out any proper inspections for a few weeks yet, but there’s evidence of activity in all the hives in our apiary.

It’s not a huge surprise, since bees are actually well equipped to survive cold weather. Adopting similar behaviour to penguins, they huddle together in a ball and rotate their position, taking it in turns to spend time on the colder outer edges of the ball and then warming up in the centre, where they create heat by vibrating and buzzing around the queen. During the winter, they feed on the stores of honey in the hives - we left a full super in one hive and fondant in another - so they only need to venture outside for water and toilet breaks!

We’re looking forward to seeing them out and about collecting nectar in the spring sunshine soon.

Landowners and Academics Visit Honeydale



A group of landowners,  farmers, academics and business owners from the Cotswolds and further afield visited Honeydale this weekend for a meeting of minds and sharing of opinions and viewpoints. Ian Wilkinson led a farm walk, looking at the importance of farming diversity and sustainable practices, from soil through to food production.


Guarding the Orchard

We’ve begun replacing the guards in the heritage orchard. The original guards, put in two years ago when the trees were planted, were temporary tubes which the trees have now outgrown and some of them have also been partially dislodged by the grazing sheep.

We’re replacing them all with sturdy mesh attached to two wooden posts, three inches wide, which will allow the orchard to continue to be grazed by sheep. We’ve completed the guards on 40 trees, so only another 210 to go. Those are ear defenders, by the way, not headphones!

Hungry Birds

When our bird expert, Dr Richard K Broughton, came to Honeydale just before Christmas, he noted that the main birdfood/bumblebird plots had been almost exhausted, so the 250 Linnets from the previous month were down to about 25 on the whole farm, most of which were feeding on the mustard, which was almost the only seed still available. The small plot containing some Phacelia was attracting a flock of Goldfinches.

One of the rape/brassica strips had ripened and already been cleaned out and skylarks were still loving the sainfoin stubbles in the north field, with a dozen counted there. But many birds were already looking elsewhere for food, and the hanging feeders were quite busy with Chaffinches and Reed Buntings and a handful of Yellowhammers.



Since the new year, the sown plots have been exhausted and our bird enthusiast, Elliot, has begun the second year of the supplementary winter feeding experiment. We are supplementary feeding with 10kg of seed every day and the birds have stopped visiting the sown seed plots and are now heading directly to the supplementary feeding areas, where food is broadcast on the ground and left in hanging feeders/hoppers.

The aim of the supplementary winter bird feeding project is compare the effectiveness of growing wild bird plant mixtures, compared to regularly distributing extra supplementary bird food. It’s too early to draw conclusions until we have at least three years of results, but we are noting increased numbers of Chaffinches and Linnets and have sighted two barn owls, though Yellowhammer numbers are down for some reason. Richard has been back this week and spotted a visiting green sandpiper on the natural flood management ponds. They came last year too, so it’s great to seem them returning.

Since we’ve been purposefully catering to farmland birds, the tally of species noted on the farm has already risen significantly, from 44 to a 74, and we are hoping to see these numbers continue to increase.

Green Light for New Woodland at Honeydale

The Woodland Trust have just given the green light for the MOREwoods Project to proceed at Honeydale Farm, creating a new woodland covering 0.55 hectares.

The woodland will form a shelter belt around the new farm track at the north end of the farm, protecting against prevailing winds, and will comprise 1575 native shrubs and 675 trees.

The trees will include approximately 75 Crabapple trees and 400 Field Maple as well as 50 Beech trees, 50 Downy Birch, 50 Wild Cherry and 50 Bird Cherry. Shrubs to be planted include 900 Hawthorn, 300 hazel, 200 spindle, as well as 75 Blackthorn, 50 Dogwood and Dog Rose. 


The aim of the Woodland Trust’s MOREwoods Project is to give both practical and financial assistance to help create more native woodlands ‘for the benefit of people, wildlife and landscape’.

Following the completion of a bespoke site report, the Woodland Trust have helped to design the woodland and to select the most appropriate species mix.

Planting at Honeydale is scheduled to be completed by local nursery, Nicholsons, by the end of March 2018.

We are very grateful to the Woodland Trust for their invaluable assistance with this project.

Testing, Testing, Testing

Living Mulch Experiment:


After two years of undersowing spring cereals with a soil improving yellow trefoil and white clover mixture as part of the rotation, the ‘Living Mulch’ experiment at Honeydale was designed to determine if an undersown soil improver can be left in place and direct drilled with another cash crop, rather than ploughed in.

So this year, once the cereals had been combined, the undersowing was left in place over winter, keeping the soil covered. It was grazed with sheep in spring and then direct drilled with spring oats. We were expecting the oats to germinate quickly and establish, however due to the very dry spring the established yellow trefoil and white clover mixture had access to moisture and grew back strongly while the newly sown spring oats were slow to germinate and were smothered out. We therefore had to abandon this part of the experiment and plough in the yellow trefoil and white clover and drill the oats again. We then broadcast another crop of yellow trefoil and clover and embarked on the second part of the experiment. Once the spring wheat was cut in summer 2017, the yellow trefoil and white clover were given the light and space to establish and in Autumn, when the mix was less aggressive, we direct drilled winter cereal into it and we’re waiting to see how it fares over the next few months.

Trial Plots:


We have established 3 acres as a small trial plots area and have sown it with low growing grass mixture which will be marked out with plots and pathways in the spring.

Game Cover Tests:


We are using another area to test game cover mixtures for frost tolerance and winter hardiness, with different seed mixtures sown in strips across the field.

Finishing the Sainfoin:


We’ve finished the season by letting the sheep graze the sainfoin for three weeks, transferring the goodness from the plant back into the soil through their manure and stopping the crop going into the autumn too tall and proud. They’ve now been moved to permanent pasture.
 

Soil Microbiology

Five members of the Cotswold Seeds team have just completed a three day intensive course on soil microbiology, looking at everything, from the importance of soil microorganisms, carbon content, to compaction, soil sampling and the formation of humus. 



At Cotswold Seeds and Honeydale Farm we’ve always focused on the importance of soil and the use of seed mixtures, including herbal leys, green manures and cover crops to improve soil fertility, reduce the need for costly inputs and bring manifold benefits in terms of the health of livestock and profitability. So this is just taking it a few steps further.

We’ll be implementing what we’ve learned at Honeydale, so more later.



Busy September at Honeydale

As we head into Autumn, there’s been plenty going on at Honeydale Farm.

Mid-September, we drilled mustard into the control plots of spring barley as a cover crop. This is a Cover crop that’s been used across Honeydale for many years and we’re keeping the trial plots so that we can compare results with the eight year crop rotation we’ve implemented. The mustard germinated by 22nd September, will die off over the winter and the residual will be ploughed up in March.




The year seven crop of our eight year rotation is spring planted wild bird seed mixes which are already being put to good use, providing a supply of food during the hungry gap. We will be repeating the experiment we did last year, comparing the benefits of these sown bird plots with supplementary feeding.

We’ve also been trailing a mixture of game cover and wild bird crops, looking at combining long lasting cover over the winter with the addition of sources of food for farmland birds. The mixtures, some of which includes sunflowers, millet and mustard for food and sorghum and brassicas for cover, were sown in June and are looking good, so we may have new mixes to purchase through Cotswold Seeds before too long.



We’ve sowed and rolled a pathway seed mix around the area we are establishing as a novel crop trials area. The seed mix includes meadow grass, ryegrass, fescues, bentgrass and wild white clover and was drilled in three different directions in order to create a thick and dense covering that’s robust enough to cope with being trodden on. 


On the 24th September we combined the sainfoin. It was cut for hay in spring, allowed to regrow and set seed and after combining it’s now being cleaned in the Cotswold Seeds warehouse. It’s a special variety seedstock for multiplication.




A couple of days later, we welcomed 35 PhD students from Oxford University to Honeydale. This varied group of post graduates included specialists in water and insects and they were all interested in studying the diverse farm as an ecosystem. In the final days of September the water in the bottom scrape was successfully holding the water and providing a habit for many aquatic species. 



Our herbal ley was also sown at the end of June, with a cover crop of Buckwheat to act as a nurse to help it establish, and the sheep have enjoyed grazing it over the summer. In the first week of October we topped it to remove the stalky and fibrous stems in preparation winter.