Here at the Empire Farm, we do our best to encourage wildlife. The farm is certified organic and is under DEFRA Countryside Stewardship.
We have an environmental management plan for the farm, and over the next few years we intend to extend the orchards and carry out some tree planting and hedgerow management. Our thick hedgerows provide cover for birds and small mammals and attract a wealth of insect life.
In autumn 2006, we created a new 0.5 acre pond in one of our fields. While the diggers were on site, we took the opportunity to deepen our existing ponds which were beginning to silt up quite badly.
Twelve years on and the pond is well established and needs regular attention to stop the rushes from taking over. The invertebrate life has increased greatly. In 2008, 6 species of dragonfly and damselfly were spotted, as well as diving beetles, back swimmers, pond skaters, caddis fly larvae, leeches, and fresh water molluscs. The shallow water margins teem with small fish such as stickleback, and a pair of kingfishers are often seen fishing . During 2007 and 2008 the ponds were visited by a black swan and a little egret. In 2009 a cormorant came visiting, but we were not really impressed with all the fish it caught! The pond is an amphibian magnet and each year we get hundred of frogs and toads and in late spring the pond is alive with tadpoles, so many that the water’s edge looks almost black at times. In 2018, there were more than 400 clumps of frog spawn. The vegetation has grown with plenty of arrowhead and hornwort.
The front field is a wonderful park-style pasture which has several veteran oak trees, the oldest being at least 300 years old.These magnificent trees are a really special feature of the farm. One has a barn owl box and we are hopeful that this will attract a pair of owls.
The farm has long supported wildlife, as indicated by the names of the fields – Kestrel, Little Kestrel, Heron, Duck, and Snipe. The farm is regularly patrolled by a fox and badger family, so we do have to be careful to lock up our geese and chickens every evening. In 2009 Alison Rymell of the Volunteer and Farming Alliance surveyed the birds in summer, walking round the farm at dawn on several mornings. She heard or saw 46 species of bird, including a number of species on the UK red list, for example linnet, skylark and starling. She also heard a tree sparrow but didnt see it.
The farm has four small ponds as well as the new one. They are populated by wild mallard and coot with regular visits from grey herons and kingfishers. On one area of boggy meadow we have a small migratory population of snipe, and we are doing our best to preserve this special habitat.
There is a resident population of buzzards – they are almost always soaring overhead, their screeches ringing out over the valley floor. They fly down and perch on trees in the hedge whenever the tractor is out, looking for voles scared by the machinery, so we often get very good views of these beautiful birds of prey. One one remarkable harvest day in 2018, we counted 30 buzzards. There are kestrels, too, breeding in one of the large oak trees, sparrowhawks and a pair of red kite is nesting near the pond. Barn owls are regular visitors and can often be seen at dusk, hunting in eerie silence along the rough margins around the fields. That is a really special treat.
Roe deer are on our land all year round, and are most often seen just before dark, but sometimes right in the middle of the day. We will typically see between 2 and 5 deer, but 2006 was quite special, as we had two does with twins. Twin fawns are not common, and two sets of twins is particularly unusual.
A muntjac deer was seen for the first time in September 2007. This is a small deer, that at first glance can be mistaken for a fox.
We often seen spraint around the pond, opened up swan mussels and remains of fish – all sure signs that an otter has been busy.