Birds & mammals

BarnOwl

Birds

When planning a sowing with bird interest in mind the first thought is often to try and provide seeds for seed eating birds. Teasel, knapweeds and goatsbeard are certainly very attractive to goldfinches when we grow them as seed crops! For other birds which eat seed it is often the larger grains of annual wild flowers, weeds and crops that are most attractive.  A sown cornfield annual mixture with cornflower, corn marigold and forget-me-not can be good and these sowings often also allow space for other annual weeds like groundsel, fat hen and knotgrass.

For many birds, however, it is not the supply of seed that is important so much as the supply of insects and grubs to provide protein rich food for rearing young, even for those species which we may regard as seed eaters. In this regard it is the diversity and volume of plants and vegetation that determines the range and quantity of caterpillars available; and for this sowing meadows, rough grassland and enhancing hedgerows and woodland pays dividends.  For owls, kestrels and other birds of prey, tall grasses and meadows also provide good hunting ground as they are excellent habitat for voles and other small mammals.

Habitat and vegetation structure can be important as with other wildlife.  Lapwings and skylarks for example need some open space in short grazed or mown turf for ground nesting; other birds such as tree sparrows need dense cover for nesting as provided by hedges, woodland and scrub.

 

Small mammals and other animals

The basic requirements for all animals are food and shelter.  Grassland that is managed by mowing and grazing as meadows or pasture is best at providing a diversity of fresh nutritious herbage, whereas undisturbed infrequently managed areas provide the best shelter.  Sites which provide a mosaic of both in space or over time offer the best overall potential for wildlife, and this is usually achieved through management and the timing and frequency of this management.  Water voles, for example, benefit from a management plan in which waterside banks are only cut and cleared in short sections at any one time to provide patches of fresh vegetation near the waterline alongside areas of uncut rough cover for shelter.   For many species it is the overall diversity of both plant species and the insects they support that yields benefits.  A meadow that supports a wide variety of moths for example makes excellent night hunting for bats.