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Root Zero Farmers Helping to Save Rare Yellow Hammers

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Endangered Yellow Hammers have been spotted on farms across Pembrokeshire for the first time in decades, thanks to a new feeding and conservation programme launched by Root Zero potato growers.

The Yellow Hammer is a ‘red list’ species which is under severe threat and of the utmost concern to conservationists. On one of the grower farms, where the bird had not been seen in at least 16 years, a new population has been discovered thanks to the installation of new ‘farm-size’ bird feeders.

 

Root Zero is the UK’s first carbon neutral potato, launched in September by Puffin Produce. Root Zero is grown sustainably by farmers who are working to minimise carbon emissions, protect soil health and support biodiversity. This includes the planting of more cover crops to capture carbon from the atmosphere which help essential pollinators in the summer and in the winter feed the birds.

One of the main reasons for the decline in bird populations is the lack of food at this time of year, as so little waste seed is left on the farm due to modern agriculture techniques. Root Zero growers are helping the birds get through this ‘hungry gap’

Roger Mathias is a biodiversity consultant working for Root Zero to advise its growers on the Yellow Hammer conservation project.

“I remember the jingly sound of yellowhammers around me as I walked home from primary school on summer days, not quite believing that such a bright yellow bird could hide and disappear in seconds. Without realising it, many years later they have almost disappeared from the hedges and fields. They simply ran out of year-round food. For many years, the seeds so important to them, left over from the corn harvest, just weren’t there. Different crops and more efficient machines meant less ‘left overs’ for the birds,” he said

Replacing that winter food can be done. Root Zero growers are doing it in two ways. They are sowing special areas of seed rich plants which are left unharvested to help feed the birds when frosts and stormy weather can make finding food difficult. And special feeders are being installed around the growing fields filled with wheat, oats and seeds which have been grown and mixed by one of the Root Zero farners

Roger Mathias added:

“We have small numbers of Yellow Hammers on our farms, and we are determined to help them return to our Welsh countryside, so that the ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ song can join the stunning yellow feathers in brightening our summer walks.

“And it’s been great to see the work that we’re doing to help the Yellow Hammer has had a positive impact in supporting a whole range of other farmland birds too. We’ve also seen  Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Linnet in good numbers and 100s of Chaffinches,” he said.

Surveys have begun, carried out by an expert volunteer from the British Trust for Ornithology  on Root Zero farms to count the species and numbers of birds that can be found. This will help to measure the health of current populations and the impact of conservation measures like additional feeding, preservation of hederows, tree planting and increased cover crops.