The Hungry Gap – Helping Wildlife During the Barren Months

The Hungry gap is basically the period of time between the last of the winter crops being harvested and the emergence of the new spring plants, which happens to usually coincide with the beginning of the mating season for many farmland bird species. It is hoped that by combatting the lack of food at this time of year we can not only help stave off the hunger but also increase the mating bird populations.

Most of the species experiencing problems within the ‘hungry gap’ are species that feed primarily on seeds and grain. Recent studies have found that birds already at risk of disappearing from the countryside are struggling from the end of the game shooting season and the start of nesting in April because most stubble and ‘seed-bearing’ crop fields have been ploughed by this time of year.

‘Game cover’ planting is exactly that, cops specifically planed as cover and food for game shooting, maize for instance are great for game cover, sadly this isn’t great for wild birds. The better crops for wild birds are Millet, Kale, Shorgum, Triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye), Quinoa and Fodder Raddish. These all produce seed crops late in to the year and can, if left unploughed to spring, provide a huge boost to wild birds.Growing a mixture of these crops ensures seed provision over the longest period possible and a food source that is attractive to the widest range of birds.

If the right mixture is chosen, wild bird seed mixes can also provide effective game covers. A mixture containing millet and linseed can be grown alongside maize or undersown in maize to maximise the space in which you have for game cover.

A kale based wild bird mix with several species of brassica and quinoa provides huge quantities of seed, stands well throughout the shooting season, and gives a measurable level of control of broad leaved weeds.

Another way of helping wild birds over this time of year is supplementary feeding – providing wild bird seed from 1stDecember   – 30thApril. Spreading 25kg of bird seed across two feeding sites each week during the ‘hungry gap; these sites should be free draining firm areas, hard standing or farm tracks are ideal. These sites need to be close to game cover, winter stubbles and/or wild bird seed mixed planted areas. The seed mix MUST be organic and the mix must comprise of 70% cereals and 30% small seeds.

Great results have been reported by those that practise supplementary feeding and a range of farmland birds clearly switch to this additional food source when the planted seed supply becomes exhausted.

Both wild bird seed mixes and supplementary winter feeding can be funded through stewardship schemes with very attractive grant rates provided by Natural England. For advice on how to apply for grant funding under the Countryside Stewardship schemes please contact me