The oats grow every day, and the work I put into them is repaid by the extraordinary quantity and variety of birds which now hang around the rising crop. We have linnets and redpolls on constant rotation, and suddenly there are yellowhammers where before there were none. They must have come over from a nearby patch of scrubby gorse meadow, and it is impressive to see how quickly they have responded to our project.
I remember yellowhammers from my childhood, but they have become a rare sight in Galloway, which has become dominated by vast areas of grassland in the past two decades. My parents used to throw the word “yellowhammer” around as a cover-all name for little birds which they couldn’t identify; they were so common that a flicker of feathers in the hedgerow was usually dismissed with a shrug as “probably just a yellowhammer” in the way many people now say “it’s just a sparrow”.
The return of these birds is an absolute joy, and it is fine to hear them singing around the crop at the first moments of daylight. It’s hard to see what they are getting from the oats at the moment, but like the linnets, pipits and redpolls, they seem to lurk around the margins, hunting for insects. I can’t wait for my new hedges to grow and hopefully offer these stunning little canaries some nesting cover.
Yellowhammers will enjoy the stubbles even more when the oats are harvested, although there may be a spanner in the works. I worry that I have sown these oats too thickly, and the crop may soon collapse on itself. Recent winds flattened a large area of young plants, and while these are green enough to have stood up again, the future looks a bit messy. We will struggle to harvest and stook these oats if they collapse, and the solution may be to intervene early and make silage as a whole-crop. This would salvage some good fodder value for the cattle, but it will not have the same benefits for the wildlife.
Lessons are being learned, but this first dabble in arable (and specifically cereals) has been a voyage of thrilling discovery…