Letham Shank Farm - Crops, Machinery and Livestock

 

Wildlife on the Farm

I am now glad that my father did not remove hedges during the 1960s. As a child I couldn't understand why he didn't, in order to have big fields and big machinery, but he came from a generation that would stop (the horses) and move a Skylark's or Lapwing's nest when cultivating or mowing. The result is we have more than the average amount of hedges and smaller than average fields. There is a financial penalty in this in terms of agricultural output, but the annoying rules from the EU as interpreted by DEFRA are the most frustrating as we have a greater percentage of the farm dedicated to wildlife than our larger neighbours and get no recognition for this - in many cases we are penalised. The cropping has not changed drastically over the years - we still have a five year rotation, but probably more winter crops now. Autumn sowing is better for wildlife as green cover is provided over the winter as opposed to bare ploughed soil.

Birdlife seems to be the indicator that most organisations focus on to assess 'health' of a farm. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects are equally important but are more difficult to 'count'. For example, I have no idea how many voles live in a given plot of land - I see one or two regularly. Since I started watching a Kestrel nest, I have been amazed by the large number and variety of species they hunt. When they are feeding young it is surprising how short each hunt can be.

As I only have intimate knowledge of the land I farm the comments below are purely my opinions. I have tried to indicate relative numbers of mammals because I do not know even approximate totals as I do with birds, but have based my estimates on the frequency I see the animals and the change over the last 50 years. I would say that most are doing well, with some increasing drastically and some, most notably Hedgehogs declining slightly. In the case of the hedgehogs I blame two things - my use of molluscicides and a main road constructed through the farm. In the 80s & 90s we often struggled to make good seedbeds on our heavy land which necessitated the used of molluscicides to prevent 100% crop loss. As cultivation machinery improved and tractor horse power increase, seedbeds in general have improved and the requirement to apply slug pellets has reduced. Molluscicides have also developed, becoming less toxic, with newer active ingredients and lower dose rates. The road is a nationwide problem which on 'our' stretch of about 1.1 miles (1.75 km) also accounts for about 10-12 badgers, 2-3 Otters, 1-2 Deer and hundreds of birds per annum.

My policy towards conservation is to interfere as little as possible, but I have found that any work (e.g. Pond construction) carried out to benefit birds, obviously and inevitably benefits other species. Water, moving or stationary is the greatest attractant for wildlife. There may be some small animals on the farm that I am not aware of but the creatures I see and can identify correctly are below.

Declining       Static         Improving
                   
Animal Species on the Farm include:
     
Badger (Meles meles)
Badger Resident There is one main sett on the farm but after every breeding season young badgers move out to several smaller setts. A large number are killed on the main road each year which keeps the population fairly static.
Breeding.
20
Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus)
Brown Rat Resident most people seem to be repulsed by Rats, but the are intelligent sociable animals. Having said that, they are a major pest and can cause cosiderable damage by gnawing. Every year there is a huge influx from the fields to farm buildings and have to be controlled by traps and baiting.
Breeding.
100
Common Frog (Rana temporaria)
Common Frog Resident Most often seen at breeding time or when the young start to move out from their hatching place, but even as adults never move far from water or marshy spots.
Breeding.
20
Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
Common Toad Resident Most assume that the Toad lives in or near water, but they are regularly found in cropped fields several hundred metres from water. There are two breeding spots on the farm where the long strings of spawn can be found in spring.
Breeding.
30
Common Vole (Microtus arvalis)
Common Vole Resident I think there are even more voles present than previously thought. Lifting a fallen branch which has lain for a while invariably shows 'vole tracks'. They also seem to be the main componet of the Kestrel's diet.
Breeding.
100
Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Fox Resident The fox is always present and the are two dens on the farm - not always in breeding use. For most of the year the foxes have above ground 'nests' in the base of a hedge or similar and use the dens for breeding.
Breeding.
4
Hare (Lepus europaeus)
Hare Resident Assessing the number of hares is difficult as most of the year it is very easy to walk past one in a 'form' a couple of metres away. In spring groups of 4 or 6 can be seen doing the 'mad march hare' acrobatics.
Breeding.
10
Harvest Mouse (Micromys minutus)
Harvest Mouse Resident Harvest Mice have never been common here but can still be seen round the farm. I have never seen a nest built like a ball in standing cereal crops. Mechanisation may not help this species, but in the 'old days' crops were actually cut earlier to allow ripening in the 'sheaf'.
Breeding.
20
Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Hedgehog Resident I do think the hedgehog population has decreased over the last 50 years. However they can be seen fairly often especially at twilight. A couple of hibernaculum have been constructed, but no takers yet.
Breeding.
20
House Mouse (Mus musculus)
House Mouse Resident Named the House Mouse because it will tolerate proximinty to man, it lives all over the farm and reaches pest numbers through winter when they continue to breed if food is available.
Breeding.
100
Long Tailed Field Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)
Long Tailed Field Mouse Resident A shy, difficult to spot mouse which lives in hedgrows, scrub or woodland. (Sometimes called 'Wood Mouse') The individuals seen here are more orange-brown that most of the images I have seen.
Breeding.
50
Mink (Neovison vison)
Mink Resident Very rarely seen now; it would appear that large scale trapping by the salmon fishing industry has them under control. Occasionally called 'American Mink', possibly to imply it's non-native staus.
Not Breeding.
1
Mole (Talpa europaea)
Mole Resident Each winter a large number are trapped as the damage they can do to grassland is considerable. Moles from neighbouring land will move in within 12 months and re-use the runs. In summer they can be found foraging on the surface at twilight.
Breeding.
50
Otter (Lutra lutra)
Otter Resident There are probably more than suspected but can be seen when sitting on a riverbank. Some have been seen in the smaller streams through the farm.
Breeding.
2
Pipistrelle Bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus)
Pipistrelle Bat Resident Very occasionally I come across a roosting bat in an old building, but most of the time they hide in a dark secure roof space or similar. They spend a large part of the year in hibernation or semi-hibernation.
Breeding.
20
Pygmy Shrew (Sorex minutus)
Pygmy Shrew Resident Very rarely seen but their high pitched squeaks can regularly be heard emanating from a hedge bottom or tussock of grass. Apparently most of this noise is fighting as they are very territorial. Numbers uncertain, but Kestrels regularly bring shrews to the nest, indicating a good population.
Breeding.
30
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus))
Rabbit Resident Rabbit populations swing wildly from year to year. In the 1960s there was one warren of about 30 rabbits, now there are many smaller warrens of about 10 animals each. They have never reached pest numbers mainly due to foxes, buzzards and other predators.
Breeding.
100
Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)
Roe deer Resident A recent arrival which is becoming very numerous. Although they are classed as crepuscular, they are frequently seen in broad daylight, grazing. The 'nests' where females give birth can often be found in the bottom of hedges with a lot of vegetation growing nearby.
Breeding.
30
Stoat (Mustela erminea)
Stoat Resident During the day a Stoat may be seen hunting along hedge bottoms and is frequently unaware of human presence until close. More often seen as a quick dash a cross a rodway. The Rabbit population is fairly constant so I assume the Stoat population is too.
Breeding.
20
Water Shrew (Neomys fodiens)
Water Shrew Resident I was not certain that this species lived on the farm until the Kestrels returned to nest with them on several occasions. I assume they live in the same areas as Water Voles, but have little idea about their breeding etc.
Breeding.
50
Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius)
Water Vole Resident Patience is required to see one one these voles emerge from vegetation. It is more likely to be a splash as one is disturbed when walking near a stream. There are signs of a good population on the streams with Irises and Rushes along the margins.
Breeding.
100
Weasel (Mustela nivalis)
Weasel Resident Very similar to a Stoat but smaller in size and never white in winter. Their habit of preying on nests of ground nesting birds makes them unpopular in some regions, but if there is sufficient food from other sources, I do not think this is a problem.
Breeding.
20

 Print This Page

::Copyright © J. Cranston::
2000 - 2017