RSPB Farm Gives Hope To Butterflies

Meadow Brown

Hope Farm is the RSPB’s arable farm in Cambridgeshire. Here, the RSPB demonstrates that it is quite possible to integrate high quality management for wildlife into a conventional, commercial arable farm without disrupting the core farming business.

This has largely been done using the Entry Level Scheme (ELS) part of Environmental Stewardship. Instead of having the easy-to-do and least costly options, Hope Farm has chosen to deliver the wide range of resources required by our wildlife through a mosaic of habitats. This incorporates flower rich margins, pollen and nectar margins, wild bird cover crops and skylark plots alongside the more common grass margins and lenient hedgerow management. 

Lots of survey work is conducted on the farm throughout the year. The Hope Farm Winter Bird Index is calculated from whole-farm counts made during December, January and February. Counts began in winter 2000/01, and set a baseline of 1. The result for winter for 2013/14 is 6.84. This is a slight decline from 2012/13 when it was 7.35 but is still the 3rd highest winter index figure for Hope Farm since counts began. This is remarkable due to the lack of woodpigeons recorded and the mild temperatures.  

As well as monitoring bird populations at Hope Farm, we also monitor butterfly numbers and contribute data to Butterfly Conservations’ UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. Butterflies are systematically monitored weekly from April until the end of September. This provides a yearly total for each species and enables us to draw yearly comparisons on the farm and with national trends, although slight methodological differences prevent a direct comparison with the population index for farmland butterflies in England.

The English farmland index is calculated using a suite of 21 species and we use the same species to calculate the Hope Farm Butterfly Index.

Hope Farm Butterfly IndexOverall, butterfly numbers have increased since the baseline year in 2001, although with some annual fluctuation related to poor weather. This compares favourably with the national trend for England, which has seen a slight decline over the same period of time. 

The nectar flower mixtures (EF4) incorporated into the Hope Farm ELS has increased the area of flower-habitats on the farm.

The numbers of butterflies recorded as part of our monitoring has increased since implementing this option in 2007, and further analysis of the small scale habitat changes on butterfly numbers is ongoing.

Kathryn Smith
RSPB Agricultural Communications Manager