Wednesday 22 December 2021

Down on the Farm

Before moving here in 2002 I never gave a lot of thought to farmland and how it is used. I do now. Between every local town and village are great swathes of the stuff. Obviously I know very little about the nuts and bolts of farming, or what it takes to make a farm profitable, but I can see easily enough the impact that East Devon/West Dorset farming practice in general has had on the countryside. And it ain't good. Acres and acres of ecological desert. During the various lockdowns I made a conscientious effort to get out in the local farmland to see what I could find in the way of birds and other wildlife. Most of the time it was depressing in the extreme. I'm not going to go on about it here though, because let's face it, what's the point? And anyway, for once I actually have a good news tale about farmland...

A couple of weeks ago I heard about a decent flock of Bramblings and other finches, not far from Bridport. The only clue was that they were feeding on sunflowers. A bit of detective work suggested where I ought to look, and this morning was the first chance I've had to follow up my hunch. I parked up just a few miles from home, and then walked through the farmland on public rights of way. Apart from some distant shooting and a chainsaw or something, it was dead quiet, and there was a noticeable lack of livestock. However there were a few birds, and eventually I stumbled upon a small flock of Bramblings...

Bramblings. There were 8-10 others with these two.

At this point I had seen no sunflowers, but it felt like I was getting warm. Sure enough, not too much further on was a field full of them. And a swirling mass of finches...

Mostly Linnets here, a fraction of the 400+ present.

Hundreds of Linnets, Goldfinches and Chaffinches; lots of Greenfinches and many Bramblings, plus at least two Reed Buntings and a helping of House Sparrows. What a wonderful display! Birds were clearly focused on the sunflowers, but spreading further afield too. I almost forgot to mention a lovely flock of 40+ Stock Doves also. Elsewhere I encountered Redwings and Fieldfares - including a flock of 50+ of the latter - as well as a couple of Grey Wagtails and a Jay. It was so refreshing to come across farmland with loads of actual birds in it!

Best of all I met the farmer - a really friendly bloke - who sketched out their eco-friendly plans for the place now that they've left dairy behind. It sounded marvellous! I shall certainly be back. Often, probably.

A few pics...

House Sparrows and Chaffinch. Spot the Brambling!

Great to see so many Greenfinches (and another lurking Brambling)

Bramblings again

Such a lovely sight!

Fieldfare being typically coy. Amazed it tolerated me this close.

In many ways, the best part of today's little outing was how unexpectedly well my effort was rewarded. Bird-wise I have come to expect very little of the local farmland. Or rather, nothing. Because it seems almost universally dire. This was such a delight, such a breath of fresh air. I can hardly wait to see what the future holds for the place. Just brilliant!


  1. That's really good to hear! Maybe he'll spread the word to neighbouring farmers. If it's anything like up here, crofters all talk to and generally respect each other. Maybe he can persuade other farmers to do likewise where folks like you and I couldn't?

    1. Interesting thought. A lot (most?) of the farming around here is dairy, and though I could well be wrong I get the impression it is difficult to make it pay. Would be nice to think that a successful eco-friendly departure from that norm could be an inspiration to others...

    2. Probably no harm done by having a gentle word in his ear. Judging from the (admittedly few) dairy farmers I already know, your chap seems pretty forward thinking. Long may that last.

  2. I love bramblings, if it snows, we will get them in the garden.

    Despite the ravages on our land that post-Brexit Britain will cause, the farm local to the village here is quite switched on to wildlife and redressing many of the ills caused by his father before him.

    With orchards no longer paying their way, he is grubbing out strips of land between the trees and planting crops, effectively giving sheltered areas with extra yield and attraction for wildlife. He has even planted red clover along some boarders to encourage hares. This is creating a wonderful mixed habitat.

    Both he and the next farm over, have local birders giving feedback about species and locations and they are playing a game of one upmanship when, for example, one farm has hundreds of linnets yet the other none. They are actively seeking to add to their bird lists.

    They are out there Gav, good farmers with wildlife at heart. But they are alas, a rarity.

    1. Listing farmers! What a great story Dave. I've come across one or two farmers on Twitter who seem determined to farm in a wildlife-friendly way, and it is very refreshing to see. I wonder if younger farmers are simply more aware of the ecological damage that has been caused by decades of unsympathetic farming practice, and want to up their game accordingly. I think there are financial benefits (grants?) to be had from some eco-friendly practices, and it must be very satisfying to witness the fruits of such endeavour. To see more birds, insects, wildflowers etc must be a matter of pride for any true 'custodian of the countryside'. I live in hope. 😊

      PS. The only Brambling we've ever had in our garden (in Seaton) was in snowy weather too!