Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Tree sparrow villages are a great success!

An actual MDNIA tree sparrow!
I had a meeting with the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) today. This is one of the 12 national NIAs, but is unique in that it is the only “farmer led” NIA in the country.

I chair the MDNIA's Downland Species Delivery Group which keeps tabs on how well the farmers are actually delivering for species on the ground. Amongst many other things, the farmers have been building new Dew ponds, establishing areas of wild flowers, planting wild bird see mixes for feeding over-wintering farmland birds and creating “Tree Sparrow Villages”!

What on earth are Tree Sparrow villages I hear you ask!!! 
Well, Matt Prior is a fantastically knowledgeable and keen ornithologist in the area, who has a particular penchant for the engaging little tree sparrow and he has come up with this idea of creating summer villages for them – in other words creating the perfect environment for them to successfully breed.

He puts up nesting boxes in small groups as tree sparrows like to nest in loose colonies, but he also gets the farmers to grow nearby areas of insect rich flowers and to plant lots of shrubs and small trees, all of which provide the ideal foraging areas for the sparrows to gather lots of insect food – vital if they are to fledge good numbers of young.

This all has to be established within a maximum of 600 metres of the nesting boxes, as this is as far as the adults want to fly to forage for food – ideally much closer than that! Matt also rings these young birds so that he can begin to follow their future movements and where they may eventually bring up their own young.

Is it working? Well, Matt estimates that there were 142 pairs of tree sparrows nesting in the North Wiltshire Downs this summer and 72 of those pairs were using MDNIA boxes and they raised 397 chicks this year!!

Not only does the MDNIA pay for the nest boxes, but before too long Matt and a number of farmers will be out scattering supplementary small grain around tracks and field corners, so that when seeds supplies start to run a little thin, the MDNIA tree sparrows will still have plenty to eat! The MDNIA pays for this food too.

Now that is what I call successful targeted conservation in action! So, well done to all the MDNIA farmers, well done Matt for coordinating the work on the ground and well done to Jemma Batton as well, as she over-sees us all - the farmers, Matt and me!!!
Find out more about the Marlborough Downs NIA by going to:


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