Upper Wensum Cluster Farm Group- feeding trials update

By Eliza Emmett – Upper Wensum Cluster Farm Group’s advisor

The influential work of the Upper Wensum Cluster Farm Group continues to grow and develop. The landscape-scale conservation project now consists of 22 farmers and covers more than 9,000 hectares of the cherished Upper Wensum river valley in Norfolk.

Upper Wensum Cluster Farm Group photo
Upper Wensum Cluster Farm Group photo

Three images of turtle doves from camera traps
Camera trap photos of turtle doves

In our spring blog, I shared our exciting plans for a mini-cluster turtle dove feeding trial. Within the UWCFG, we chose five key farmers with adjoining land to trial the Operation Turtle Dove supplementary feeding protocol and see if we could attract turtle dove pairs. Feeding sites were chosen carefully, and habitat enhancement advice was given by expert Chrissie Kelley from Pensthorpe Conservation Trust to further support the farmers. Additionally, camera traps were set up to monitor feeding successes and the area was regularly surveyed by a volunteer from the Wensum Valley Bird Watching Group (WVBWG).

With commitment from the farmers, they scatter fed each week over an eight week period and felt that there was a change in the abundance of calling males or sighted pairs. We also did capture several images of turtle doves feeding on the trial sites as hoped and further enthused the farmers to continue feeding. Additionally, with the help of the WVBWG, we estimated eight breeding pairs in and close to the feeding trials. We have plans to replicate the feeding trials widely across the group (after a popular request from other farmers) in 2020 and it has been great to see how motivated the farmers have become.

The group is blessed to have so many ponds across the landscape and the group has been working hard on pond restoration plans for autumn 2019, which has now reached 25 ponds! Already restoring 22 ponds in 2017, the group is motivated to exceed this and by becoming formal members of the Norfolk Ponds Project, we now have access to more resources. Considering ponds are so vital for an array of species, including turtle doves (due to being granivores), this is an essential part of enhancing the UWCFG’s landscape.

A managed pond, rich in aquatic plants, invertebrate life, bankside vegetation and birds

Some of our Norfolk ponds are so species rich and unique, BBC Countryfile wanted to showcase them back in August. Two of the farmers from the UWCFG spoke about how important conservation was to them and what enjoyment they get from enhancing the wildlife around them.

These are just two examples of recent UWCFG projects, we are also working hard to reduce farm pollutant losses, introducing cover cropping into commercial arable rotations, focusing on habitat connectivity and developing soil resilience. Stay up to date on our progress on our Twitter page @WensumFarmers

Over the last year I have felt the power and strong influence of collaborative working and with 22 motivated farms on side, I am so excited to see what the future holds.