Wildlife Successes

Early Days

In 2013, Ambios became tenants of Lower Sharpham Farm, 80 acres of organic pasture set on the slopes of the River Dart Valley. When we took on the land, the grasslands had miraculously escaped the worst of modern agriculture which was a great starting point to begin farming for wildlife. A year later we secured a ten-year agri-environment agreement to support us in our mission to lower grazing pressure and to allow the grasslands to flourish.

Wilder grasslands

We now have far fewer grazing animals, letting the grass grow taller and its diversity and richness naturally increase. We have reinstated traditional hedge-laying where possible and allowed the growth of marginal areas of habitat such as rough-grassland and scrub. Wildlife thrives as the farm ecosystem becomes more robust and the whole landscape feels much more natural. The fields now buzz with insects in the summer and we have ever increasing new wildlife discoveries. Through our training and survey programme, we are building a picture of the farm’s management successes; below are some of the highlights so far:

Plants

We have measured a steady increase in the richness in the fields with a 26% rise in the number of species per 1m quadrat across the whole farm since 2011. Important nectar sources such as greater birds-foot-trefoil and black knapweed have proliferated and the sudden appearance of key indicators of high grassland quality such as yellow rattle and meadow vetchling tell us that our management is on the right track.       

Land Mammals

In 2018 and 2019 our camera traps revealed otter, and polecat seen using a small stream that crosses the farm for the very first time.  Harvest mouse and water shrew, recorded in rough habitat by the stream, are also highlights given their scarcity in the wider UK landscape.

Bats

The farm is important for bats, with 13 of the UK’s 18 resident species recorded over recent years. Our repeated encounters with Greater Horseshoe, Lesser Horseshoe and Barbastelle are of particular significance, these being among the rarest in the UK and of the highest conservation status. The increasing abundance of insects provides good foraging for these fascinating and highly protected animals. 

Birds

Traditional management of the hedges and boundaries has created enhanced nesting opportunities for a broad range of farmland birds. In the winter we now see flocks of seed eating birds, such as linnets and goldfinches foraging on seed baring plants in the open fields. Witnessing raptors hunting field voles and bank voles in the open grassland is a key indicator of habitat change, with this prey formerly restricted to field margins. Barn owl and kestrel are now frequent on the farm rather than being rare sightings as they once were. 

Insects

Perhaps the most conspicuous change is the abundance of insects in the fields. We have come to see a great number and diversity of bumble and solitary bees foraging on the flourishing wildflowers through the summer months. In 2019 a total of 20 butterfly species were recorded during surveys. These included large numbers of marbled white and common blue as well as some new arrivals such as the silver-wash fritillary. The grasslands now resound with the chirping of crickets and grasshoppers on warm summer days and the magnificent great green bush cricket, a species restricted to rough habitats in the south of England, has expanded from field margins into open areas.