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A Week on the Estate: Earth Day, Counting Birds & Saintly Flies

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April has brought us another fine, dry spring, allowing us to get plenty of work done around the estate. The cold days and frosty nights may be slowly fading away as summer draws closer, but the land could certainly use a drop or three of rain.

This week brought us Earth Day and we celebrated the positive steps we’re taking at South Ormsby Estate to help mitigate climate change and environmental damage. In 2020, we planted 2km of hedgerow, creating habitats for wildlife and reversing the post-war trend towards intensification. Our grass-fed Lincoln Red beef herd embodies our commitment to both the Pasture for Life movement and to native breeds perfectly matched to their environment.

We’re also investing in making our bricks and mortar fit for a more sustainable century. We’re equipping our early-to-mid-20th century housing with state-of-the-art efficiency measures including ground-source heating, insulation and under-floor heating, thereby reducing carbon emissions – and tenants’ heating bills – by at least 80%.

Our Saturday Club have been playing their part too, building nesting boxes to help natural pest-controllers like the tree sparrow recover and thrive. Out on the land, we’re planting up arable land for the specific benefit of farmland bird species and pollinators.

Collage Of Gardening & Working

Speaking of birds, the RSPB released the results of its midwinter ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ and it’s interesting to compare the national picture with the mini-census taken by our Saturday Club in December.

Here’s the UK top ten: 1. House sparrow, 2. Blue tit, 3. Starling, 4. Blackbird, 5. Woodpigeon, 6. Robin, 7. Great tit, 8. Goldfinch, 9. Magpie, 10. Long-tailed tit.

And here’s the South Ormsby Hall top ten: 1. Coal tit, 2. Great tit, 3. Blue tit, 4. Robin, 5. House sparrow, 6. Chaffinch, 7. Jackdaw, 8. Starling.  9. Mallards on the Lake, 10. Pheasants running around the grounds!

Nationally, the house sparrow has ruled the roost for 18 years, but in our backyard it’s a lowly fifth after coal, great and blue tits and robins. We should confess that coal tits often nest in the tree right next to the kitchen garden feeder and clearly know the value of a free buffet. Across the UK, greenfinch and chaffinch numbers have continued to fall but we’re doing our part by planting up some of our arable land to benefit traditional farmland birds.

Collage Of Birds & Insect

Finally, keep an eye on your asparagus because 25th April is St Mark’s Day. Named for the author of the Gospel of Mark, this is also the day that the adult hawthorn fly (Bibio marci) is thought to emerge.

This harmless black fly with its distinctive trailing legs emerges in force at this time of year around wooded field margins and wetlands. Its larvae develop in the soil where they thrive on rotting matter and the roots of allotment favourites like celery, lettuce and asparagus. The adults seek out nectar and are useful pollinators of fruit trees.  Hawthorn flies gathering over ponds and rivers make a fine feast for freshwater fish, and some anglers find this bug a useful model for hand-made flies.

* ‘Coal tit’ image courtesy of Ian Preston via Flickr CC

* ‘Bibio marci’ image courtesy of Janet Graham via Flickr CC

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