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    Environmental Sustainability farm group - Land and Soil 

    The ES farm Land and Soil group was formed to aid the effort for Future Farm to achieve the goal of reaching net-zero by 2030. They were assigned these topics to investigate and implement into the normal practice of the farm to achieve this goal:

    • Minimising soil disturbance, physically and chemically
    • Keep the soil covered with a crop
    • Maintain living roots in the soil
    • Maintain plant diversity
    • Livestock for circular economy
    • Increase carbon storage in soils and flora

    Latest update from the ES farm Land and Soil group (13/12/2023)

    How is the group supporting biodiversity across the farm?

    1. Baselining and monitoring biodiversity
    • The diversity and abundance of species of flora and fauna across the farm
    1. Habitat management
    • Including hedgerow planting, establishing a woodland management plan, bird seed cover crops etc.
    1. Soil health
    • Farming in a more regenerative way (Long term Regenerative field experiment) and PIP (Paludiculture Innovation Project).
    1. Habitat creation
    • Tiny forests & Agroforestry
    • Wetland areas as part of PIP
    • Planting Hedgerows

    Baselining biodiversity: Birds update

    • Survey has finished its second year of monitoring
    • Two additional transects were added on Bailey Hills
    • The data for 2023 is currently being mapped but the 2022 data has been mapped successfully
    • 9 breeding pairs of Lapwings were observed on HAU land in 2022 but no pairs have been recorded in 2023

    Lapwing bird walking across a fieldPicture: Lapwing walking across a field


    The HAU collaboration of Supporting farmland birds project did not show the expected results, the plots were growing well but then suffered as winter progressed. This will be replicated in 2023-24 with the consideration of reviewing the time the seeds were drilled and plot size.

    Next steps for the project:

    • The focus for 2023-24:
      • Surveying Skylark populations
      • Habitat management for lapwings
      • Introduction of Lapwing plots (2ha) as recommended by DEFRA consisting of a pollinator margin crop between plot and main crop, as it is found to be beneficial in supporting foraging of chicks.
      • Conducting the second year of the Supporting farmland birds project

    Baselining biodiversity: Mammals

    • The survey for small and large mammals for 2023-24 has started and is yet to be analysed
    • The survey is looking for mammal track and signs, it was facilitated with the use of the GWCT (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust) Mink Raft monitor and Longworth small mammal trap

    Next steps for the project:

    • The focus for 2024-25 is to continue with the survey to help identify mammal species within the HAU estate

    The ES farm Land and Soil group have established a student body consisting of undergraduate or post-graduate student representatives. These students have helped the group by taking on some biodiversity projects as part of their research projects or extra curriculum.

    House martins – Student: Jenni Beasley

    • Preliminary nest counts were taken on 26th of May 2023
      • Only one active nest observed
      • Total of 84 nests (61 on main building and 23 on Jubilee Adams)
    • Nest activity survey was taken on 8th of June 2023
      • Observations taken for approximately 20 minutes
      • Only 16 nests were observed as active (14 on main building and 2 on Jubilee Adams)
      • 5 nests were repurposed by House Sparrows


    Picture: House Martin gathering material to create a nest

    Next steps for the project:

    • Acquire more data on nest success/failure
    • Determine if there is a link between nest success/preference and direction the nest is facing
    • Investigate if nest success is also linked to openness, increased human activity and predator habitats nearby

    Moths – Student: Josh Boe

    • Why record moth species?
      • To build on the iNaturalist database of biodiversity
      • Moths can be indicators of ecosystem health as they are sensitive to environment changes
    • Method of recording:
      • Actinic and MV light traps set up at several locations on HAU estate
      • Ad-hoc recording at random non-standardised times to help record species not seen in traps
    • Problems:
      • Inconsistent trapping intervals, due to human availability and potential ethical issue
      • Previous issues with vandalism
      • Gaps in data when outside term time
    • Data:
      • Recorded 1408 moths, of which 207 species were identified, some with a conservation status of near threatened or vulnerable.

    Next steps for the project:

    • More areas to be surveyed
    • More consistent/regular surveying throughout the year
    • Perhaps a targeted species survey for Alceris logiana larvae using pheromone lures

    Butterfly – Student: Huw Williams

    • The transects:
      • 4 transects established across HAU estate, each around 1km (2 x Adney Yard, 1 x Caynton Gorse and 1 x Edgmond)
      • Walked along the transects for 8 weeks from the 1st week in May to the final week in June
    • Problems faced:
      • 1 transect at Adney Yard was not maintained, making it difficult to walk
      • Limited time of the year for data collection
      • Limited number of volunteers were available so not every week was covered
      • Transect data was weather reliable
    • Results:
      • 21 species were recorded and 165 individual butterflies were observed
      • The white-letter hairstreak species is a significant find as the species population has dramatically declined in recent decades, its present is a good sign of Elm healthy hedgerows.
      • 5 species you would expect to find in the transect habitats were not present, the cause could be the wrong time of the year to record the species, walking the wrong area of the HAU estate, weather or missed by volunteers.


    Picture: White-letter hairstreak butterfly

    What can be done for the future around the HAU estate?

    • Field margins and non-impeding road verges should be left to grow and cut less often to promote grass-rich margins
    • Areas of low scrub, bare ground and rich in birds foot trefoil should be grazed during the winter
    • The promotion of buckthorn and dog wood growth and reduce the intensity of strimming the hedgerows where these plants are present

    Terrestrial invertebrates – Student: Matthew England

    • Sampling at HAU:
      • Primarily the sampling focused on carabids (ground beetles) but a variety of taxa have been caught and preserved for identification
      • The project was prompted through involvement with a national monitoring project run by Rothamstead Research Institute
    • Why record:
      • A large number of terrestrial invertebrates are natural enemies of pests and some seed-eating carabids are useful for reducing weed densities by preventing germination and spread of unwanted plants. Maintaining populations is a key aspect of conservation biocontrol.
      • Carabids are sensitive to anthropogenic changes
      • Helps create a biotic baseline for invertebrates across harper
      • There is a lack of existing records for a lot of groups, so more data is needed
    • Method:
      • 6 fields across HAU were surveyed (Adeny Yard, Stackyard East, Middle Moor, Birds Nest, Far Broad Meadow and Large Marsh)
      • Pitfall traps containing soapy water were placed at the field margin, 5-10 metres into the field and at the centre of the field
      • Trapping occurred from late May to early June
      • Traps were left approximately a week before being collected
      • Specimens were collected for identification and stored in ethanol
    • Results:
      • Unable to identify all species collected due to time constraints
      • The carabid community was dominated by a few omnivorous species, particularly Poecilus cupreus
      • The most biodiverse fields were Stackyard East and Adeny Yard
      • The fields containing OSR tended to have a higher proportion of predators

    Bat – Student: Matilda Reynolds

    • Why record?
      • Builds a better understanding of the diversity of bats on the HAU Farm and around the estate
      • Help monitor changes in the species seen
      • Key indicator of biodiversity and the health of the habitat as a whole
    • Method and location:
      • An Echo meter Pro was used for the project which recorded the number of passes that occur overhead
      • The meter was used in three locations (Caynton Gorse, Pingle Wood and Newport Plantation)
    • Results:
      • Seven different species were detected out of 17
      • Three especially at-risk species in UK were recorded during this project (Serotine bat, Horse shoe bat and Leisler noctule bat)

    Picture: Common serotine bat (Left) and Greater horseshoe bat (Right)

    Next steps for the project:

    • Survey more locations
    • Survey at both dawn and dusk
    • Conduct more consistent/regular surveys throughout the surveying months (May – September)

    Conservation Society & Biology Society (Agriculture and ELM Soceties) – Student ESLS Project to include Beatrice Williams, Matthew England, Josh Boe, Matilda Reynolds, Jenni Beasley and Huw Williams

    • Proposal:
      • A series of BioVlitz events, each targeting a range of taxa (mostly invertebrates)
      • The project would use pitfall traps, pan traps, sweep netting, light trapping, suction sampling, transects, longworth/bullet traps and tree-beating to conduct the survey
      • Surveys to take place around Adeny Yard and Newpool plantation in the spring/summer time
    • Why do this project?
      • To contribute to the species list on iNaturalist database
      • Focus on type of survey method rather than group session means we can collect data for multiple taxa
      • Will use Adeney Yard to baseline biodiversity for PIP
      • Will use Newpool Plantation due to range of habitats/microhabitats such as woodland and hedgerows etc.
      • Will be conducted in the spring/summer time to maximise the number of species that could be surveyed

    What is next for the project?

    • More equipment and funding is required before project can commence

    Next steps for 2024:

    • UKHab surveys
    • Establishing 2 additional bird biodiversity survey transects
    • More hedgerow planting including the planting of Black Poplar trees
    • Continued focussed mammal surveys
    • Continued bird and invertebrate monitoring
    • Continued bat surveys using acoustic monitoring
    • Set up barn owl boxes 
    • Continue with student projects


    Previous years updates for the ES group can be located below:

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