Counting on the birds at Harpenden farm

Farmer Howard Roberts stands in the field where he carried ot The Big Farmland Bird Count on Hammond

Farmer Howard Roberts stands in the field where he carried ot The Big Farmland Bird Count on Hammonds End Farm - Credit: Archant

Birds of a feather may flock together but do they congregate on St Albans’ farms?

Despite constant recent downpours it appears they do, according to Howard Roberts, who grows organic cereal at Hammonds End Farm, Redbourn Road, Harpenden.

Earlier this month, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust ran the “big farmland bird count,” one of the largest coordinated surveys of farmland birds ever conducted in the UK, to help show how birds at agricultural sites are faring.

Last week Howard took part in the first nationwide count, where farmers spent half an hour recording the species and number of birds seen on just one area of their farms.

While Howard has been farming at the 270-acre site since 1985, he turned to organic crops in 1998 and now has an organic arable farm, with some beef cattle.

He said: “I grow organic cereals for local artisan mills, such as Redbournbury Mill.

“We devote certain areas of the farm to help wildlife; some of that is for birds, some is for butterflies and other invertebrates.”

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Hammonds End Farm, on gently rolling countryside, boasts about 40 different bird species.

They are encouraged to nest and feed there because of the wide grass margins left to grow wild around crops, and hedges are cut less frequently.

Birds regularly encountered include some birds under threat and which have been in decline including the yellowhammer, starling and song thrush.

Howard spotted an impressive 10 skylarks in his survey area alone. These birds have suffered a dramatic decline in population.

He said that since cutting out insecticides and agricultural chemicals the farm has enjoyed a dramatic boost in biodiversity.

Howard added: “We have one of the largest colonies of house martins in Herts. I strongly believe that the way we farm organically is genuinely helpful for wildlife.”

But the recent rain has affected the number of birds, with Howard saying: “We were almost lucky to see any birds at all.

“I wonder what will happen with the insects as there could be a serious knock-on effect further down the chain, but there is nothing we can do about the rain.”