Tree Sparrow Project
VCT funding was given to a project identified by Martin de Retuerto (previously of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust), to integrate the use of Vitacress’ Mullens farm and the adjacent river.
Martin explains that “Tree sparrows, a UK Biodiversity Action Plan listed species, have suffered an 85% population decline and 20% range contraction. The species is synonymous with mixed farming landscapes and were once widespread across Wiltshire and Hampshire, but are all but lost as a breeding species in the latter. Adults rely on a diet of grass, wildflower and cereal seeds and feed their young on insects. Breeding sites are closely linked with availability of insects and, as such, are often close to river corridors or other wetland features. Changes to agriculture and the loss of nesting sites have driven the population decline, although significant efforts have been exerted in Wiltshire to help their recovery.
Bird surveys have produced records of feeding tree sparrows during the winter at Mullens Farm, while the Wiltshire recovery project has recent records of breeding birds in the neighbouring village of Woodborough. These breeding birds currently form the eastern outlier for the mid Wiltshire breeding population, which is also the closest to the Hampshire border.
Encouraging the species to increase its hold within the Mullens Farm area as a breeding bird helped to develop a more self-sustaining local population as well as encouraging its extension towards Hampshire. The farm possesses an array of habitats relevant to the tree sparrow’s feeding requirements – weedy stubbles, wildflower margins and river corridors for seeds and insects. However, at the moment it does not have sufficient nesting spaces to encourage uptake by breeding birds”.
Martin advised that approximately 50 nest boxes mark a positive first step. Location of the boxes are focused around summer feeding areas, notably trees along the river corridor, wet areas and grassy margins, as well as relatively undisturbed areas on farm buildings. The VCT funded the nest box project and held a school event, allowing children from Woodborough School to construct the wooden boxes and learn about birds and the site. Read what the children thought of the project.
A winter feeding station also helped to draw birds onto the farm. Various seed mixtures or ‘tailings’ provide an easy way to identify their presence. Local volunteers involved with the country recovery project regularly check nest boxes and record nesting details if applicable.