Walmermeadows tree sparrow project

We have recently visited Vine House Farm, a farm in the fens of Lincolnshire where the farmer, Nicholas Watts, sets out to try to farm in a way that it is both profitable and kind to wildlife. His farm includes areas of wildflower meadow where he has scraped off the topsoil to discourage grasses, it has large wild margins round the fields, some of it is organic, many wet areas have been created, he has planted additional lengths of hedgerow and he has put up lots of nest boxes.

Of particular note is the work he has done with tree sparrows. Unlike house sparrows, tree sparrows do not closely associate with man. They eat seed mainly but also need insects to feed their young. And they like to nest in holes and do like these to be in colonies, like their cousins the house sparrows.

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A fully occupied sparrow nesting terrace. One hole at each end and a hole on the middle.
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A tree sparrow baby.
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Tree sparrow eggs

And, shockingly, their population has declined by 97% since the 1960s. Yes, thats 97%! Nicholas Watts has put up many, many tree sparrow nest boxes – there are not many trees on the fens and so there is a natural scarcity of nesting sites – and all but two of them are now occupied by nesting tree sparrows. Its such a success story and one that he attributes to providing the nesting sites, placing them near water that will have insects flying over and putting out feeders of red millet seed, a food that sparrows find irresistible.

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Three tree sparrows eating seeds on feeders at Rutland Water. Chestnut coloured tops of their heads and dark cheek spots set them apart from house sparrows.

In Kent, there are tree sparrows at Dungeness and in the Romney Marshes and thats it. There are no tree sparrows anywhere near our area of East Kent. But, apparently, tree sparrows fly around a lot. They are not like house sparrows who never go very far from where they grow up. Tree sparrows roam and so, if you create a good environment for them, there is a chance that they will find it.

And therefore we have decided that we will try to provide a habitat that meets all the criteria as listed above and just see what happens. Who knows, we could establish a new population of them and wouldn’t that be the most satisfying thing ever. We have already created a pond that should satisfy the water requirement and so we will now put up some nest boxes and some red millet feeders. And then we will wait – it may take years, it may never happen at all but it will certainly never ever happen for sure if we don’t try.

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The red millet feeder in position by the pond. The dog tells us by her stance that rodents are already being drawn to it.
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Interest being shown in the red millet, although not by the intended target.

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