Farming and Wildlife notes from Sparham Hall Farm. July and August 2020. By Charles Sayer

Everything this summer has been weather dominated. The farm looks like Southern Spain
without the Hoopoes. Harvest is reckoned by some to be the worst for 30 years. Given the
advances in plant breeding and agro-chemistry, I would go further back to 1976, for a time
when we have been so badly hit by the weather. Only one cut of grass has been taken for silage or hay: normally we would have cut twice by now – but there is nothing in the fields.
Why is it that trees – especially oaks – drop huge branches in hot weather? We have had
about a dozen come down. We have heard several crashing earthwards: there is a loud crack
like a rifle shot followed by a crunch as the bough descends.
The changing climate is giving growers a real headache in deciding what to grow. There will
certainly be changes to the cropping landscape soon. We are already seeing less Oil Seed
Rape and Sugar Beet due to chemical restrictions and much of this has been replaced by
Maize for biogas. Soya beans could become widespread in the future and also Rye. The new
system of agricultural subsidies will be rolled out soon: ‘’Public money for public goods’’ is the
catch-phrase. But what ‘’public goods’’ actually represent is open to debate, and everything
has changed with Covid. Do we want to be more self sufficient? [65% at present] or are ‘’
public goods’’ merely environmental? Look out for an underfunded, soggy compromise!
The best paying crop [and most rewarding in all ways] will be my environmental stewardship
where the flower meadows were stunning until they became frazzled by the drought. Spiny
Restharrow, Marjoram, Scabious, trefoils, Viper’s Bugloss and Knapweed provided a
wonderful insect habitat used by butterflies, day flying moths and an array of grasshoppers.
Numbers of Six Spotted Burnett moths reached an estimated 3000+ with some clumps of
Scabious having over 40 nectaring individuals. The hot weather did not seem to suit all the
butterflies though. Skippers and blues were low in numbers and Painted Ladies very scarce.
However, sightings of a Clouded Yellow at the end of July and a female Silver Washed
Fritillary and White Admiral in early August were all very welcome and took the farm list to 26
for the year. There were plenty of Purple Hairstreaks too. Peacocks had a very good year but
started going into hibernating quarters 2 weeks earlier than usual.
Moth numbers have also been rather variable and I wonder if the larvae feeding during the
spring drought struggled to do well on their wilting plant foods. It just illustrates that while it is
easy to focus on the insect’s adult phase, all the life-cycle stages need to work for it to be
Bee Orchids also hated the dry spring and numbers were down by over 90%.

Sundry sightings:

July 1st: Spotted Flycatchers have bred in the farmyard.
July 7th: A Goshawk flew over the garden.
July 17th: A Beautiful Snout in the moth trap was just the 3rd Norfolk record.
July 20th: A mass of Rooks and Jackdaws seen scavenging today on a barley stubble. There
were well over 2000 birds. The black corvids on the yellowy-brown field looked like an
enormous Garibaldi biscuit!
July 22nd: A Mistle Thrush flock of 47 seen near the cattle sheds. I normally associate these
gatherings with late August or September.
July 24th: Clouded Yellow seen on 4 hectare flower meadow. Lots of Peacocks and Six
Spotted Burnett moths too and several of the attractive ‘micros’ Pyrausta aurata and P
August 6th: Always exciting to get a new species in the moth trap, but an Oak Processionary
moth was not so welcome – an invader, damaging to oak trees.
August 8th: A dog Otter wandered casually through the garden at 2.00 in the afternoon. I see
more Otters than Hedgehogs now. Plenty of Badgers about: which could well be why there
are fewer hedgehogs.
Aug 10th. Linnets starting to ‘flock up’.
Aug 12th: Covey of 10 Grey Partridges on a stubble field. 1 or 2 pairs bred here this year.
Aug 18th: Influx of Silver Y moths. 3 Red Kite sightings this week. A Painted Lady was only
the 3rd of the year.
Aug 20th: The Swallows have flown from the nest in the porch. 5 young successfully reared.
This is their 2nd brood, and 5 came off the first time. There were loads doing the feeding.
Somewhere in the past I read the obituary in British Birds of Kevin Carlson. He was often a contender [and sometime winner] of British Birds Bird Photographer of the Year. In his obit he
was credited [I seem to recall] of being the first to confirm that the first brood of swallows may
return to feed the second. Well we had 7 feeding the 5 here. What a fantastic story it makes –
and what a terrific breeding success. A great survival strategy which I am sure some
knowledgeable WVBS members can throw more light on.
Aug 21st: A farming contact near Watton has been deluged with 8’’ rain in an afternoon. All he
has filled his grain store with this year is flood water!
Aug 22nd: A family of Tawny Owls around the farmyard for the last 2 nights.
Aug 25th: Small Red-eyed Damselflies around the gravel lakes.
Aug 31st: Kingfisher on the stream that runs along the water meadows.

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