Brown’s Farm is our only downland site, just south of Marlborough on the Salisbury Road. It is bordered on the east by Savernake Forest. The farm has magnificent hedgerows, plenty of game cover and a typical farmland avifauna: Dunnock, Chaffinch, Linnet, Yellowhammer and Skylark have always been plentiful here. Until this time last year, the then tenants ran it as a beef and arable farm. The new tenant has continued with the same profile, plus he has expanded the site to include two stable yards, with the horses also being put out to graze.
Normally we don’t have access to the site during the shooting season, as both the former and current tenants run pheasant and red-legged partridge shoots. Having been frustrated by unsuitable weather on every planned session since the one in April, with the forecast being for light winds and no rain, I contacted the farmer on the off-chance that he might give me permission to run a ringing session, which he granted. There was one small glitch: with the new enterprises on site he has reinstituted security – and forgot to give me the appropriate access codes. This meant that we set up within easy walking distance of the farm entrance, rather than our usual place one kilometre up the track. I was joined by Jonny and Ellie for the session.
As a result of the nets being positioned close to the farmyard, the catch was quite different from normal. Usually we would have had a more representative catch of farmland birds. Whilst we were setting up there were big groups of House Sparrow and Chaffinch all around the area where we set the nets. They disappeared almost immediately we had finished setting up and did not reappear, unfortunately.
We caught 30 birds in the session: Blue Tit 13; Wren 5; Dunnock 5; Robin 2(1); Blackbird 1; Bullfinch 1; House Sparrow 2. 29 birds ringed from seven species and a solitary retrapped Robin. This bird was ringed as a juvenile on the farm in September 2015.
Not our most spectacular catch but, hopefully, now that the farmer has seen that our activities have no adverse effects on his game birds, we will be able to carry out a few more sessions during the winter season when the flocks of birds are at their highest and we can get back to ringing Linnet and Yellowhammer there. I now have the codes to the gates.