CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Farmer Heroes

PUBLISHED: 14:48 10 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:15 20 February 2013

PHOTO: Jodie Randall

PHOTO: Jodie Randall

The RSPB's Felicity Clarke visits three Devon farms to find out more about their birdlife

The RSPBs Felicity Clarke visits three Devon farms to find out more about their birdlife


As a Project Officer for RSPB in the Westcountry, I get to visit many different farms here in Devon to carry out bird surveys. There are some amazing farmers here doing wonderful things for wildlife, and heres just a flavour of some of the farms I visited earlier this year.



Dairies and deer



In April I called in at a dairy farm near Tiverton. When I arrived at 6am, the farmer was busy herding the cows for milking, happy for a chat before I ventured out into his fields to see and hear what was about. This first visit to the site revealed a surprising amount of birds including song thrushes singing their repetitive, copy-cat song, and the distinctive scarlet flash of a male bullfinch in a stand of willows. By the end of my third visit, I had found a total of 37 bird species.
The farmer told me to look out for Stan, a three-legged red deer. It was an endearing moment when I happened upon him. Unafraid of me, Stan came closer, munching on rye grass and dock leaves. We watched each other for about ten minutes before I got on with the task at hand, but Stan continued to follow me around his field, until he got bored with my pace and got back to his feast.


Skylarking



The second farm I worked with this year a large arable farm near Eggesford could not have been more different. It was almost entirely sown to winter wheat, quite an intensively cultivated crop, sustaining skylarks, yellowhammers and linnets, three rare farmland birds.Part of the farm bordered a river where I was delighted to find dipper, kingfisher and sand martins.
My last visit here, one morning in June, was by far the best. Bird surveys are normally done on dry, still, warm days as birds are more active then. One of the worst conditions for bird surveys is fog, which is what I encountered that morning.
I persevered as fog usually burns off within an hour. I had forgotten my waterproof trousers so one field later the fog, the previous nights heavy rainfall and the waist-height wheat saw me with water flowing into my boots! At 8am the sun finally came out and dried my sopping legs, and I was ecstatic to confirm breeding of an unusual species on the farm: tree pipit. I saw an adult with food in its beak, a positive sign they are breeding and taking food to chicks in the nest.
After this excitement I completed the survey, and while making my way back to the car for dry shoes and socks, I was startled by an unexpected flash of white. I looked up to see a barn owl soundlessly swooping into the barn. I was utterly elated!


Ruby reds



The third farm, near Witheridge, was another contrast. Organically grown crops, Devon ruby red cattle for beef, Leicester Longwool sheep for lamb and wool for a textile business, and free range chickens, ducks, geese and pigs.
The land is managed sympathetically and traditionally, with special consideration for the culm grassland, a rare habitat found only in parts of Devon and Cornwall. These areas rely on a delicate balance between soil type and water levels. They are usually very wet, and because of these unusual characteristics, are home a diversity of species from mosses to orchids to marsh fritillary butterflies.
The arable fields were full to bursting with skylarks, singing so high up I could barely see them. There were yellowhammers singing their little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeeese songs in almost every hedge. The grassland ran alongside a wooded river that was peppered with song thrushes and great spotted woodpeckers, boisterous nuthatches and secretive treecreepers.
The farmers I meet are earnestly trying to make their living from the land, providing us with our milk, bread, beefburgers and beer, and many of them still take time to think about birds and other wildlife on their farms. Some have already made big steps for nature, and others are only just beginning by having one of the RSPBs free bird surveys.

0 comments

More from Out & About

Tue, 16:33

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tue, 15:17

Whether it’s on our beautiful beaches, in our magnificent moors or within our stunning stately homes, film productions are constantly setting up in Devon. Here are 16 that you might not know used the county as a filming location

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

From angry spirits to headless horses and ghoulish monks, Devon has more than a few supernatural stories to get your skin crawling. We have picked 11 haunted places in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October is the perfect time to discover the joys of Exmoor. Jennette Baxter of Visit Exmoor suggests five great ways to enjoy autumn on the moor

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The South West Coast Path is celebrating 40 years by calling on people to help raise £40,000. To show their support, teams from Devon’s top tourist attractions are preparing to take to the trail. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Away from the hustle of places like Woolacombe and Ilfracombe, North Devon is peppered with tiny coves, empty beaches and wooded walks leading to secluded bays that feel a million miles away from the tourist trail. BECKY DICKINSON reveals her pick of the best kept secrets on the North Devon coast

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

As part of her regular series where she visits Devon’s best places for 24 hours, Lydia Tewkesbury has this time been to Sidmouth

Read more
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ranging from rocky and windy walkways along the South West Coast Path to the sandy beaches on the picturesque coastline, the district of North Devon is one of the prettiest coastal areas in the South West of England. In no particular order, here are 10 of the prettiest villages in the district of North Devon

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In Devon’s towns and cities there’s an awful lot you can do in just 24 hours. For her regular feature, Lydia Tewkesbury travels to see what you can do in a day in Kingsbridge

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Villages in Devon are some of the prettiest in the South West. From beautiful little hamlets on the outskirts of the moors to seaside communities, we pick 10 villages in Devon you need to visit

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search