For over 20 years, Jack Kelly has been farming in a way that encourages wildlife, in particular birdlife.

He and son Adam have made changes to crops and cropping to fit in with the needs of birds like owls, hawks, falcons, finches (like the linnet), buntings (in particular the yellowhammer), pipits, sparrows (the tree sparrow) and thrushes.

Jack has a great enthusiasm for wildlife, and over the years has been helped by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Jack also acknowledges the support he has received from the Countryside Management Scheme and more recently the wider-level Environmental Farming Scheme.

On the 90-acre farm at Ballyalton in east Co Down, Jack originally kept cattle and sheep but then made the change to arable farming.

With RSPB advice, and to meet the needs of birdlife, he changed from growing winter cereals to spring cereals with wheat, barley and oats in the rotation. Spring cereals provide good stubbles and the pickles of shed grain are good feeding for small birds during the autumn and winter. As a break crop for the cereals, he grows Tic beans which go into the pigeon-feed trade.

Stubbles also harbour small rodents like mice and voles which in turn provide food for owls and hawks.

To encourage barn owls the farm has a number of owl nesting boxes, both in sheds and outdoors on trees. There are barn owls present on the farm, but they have their enemies, in particular the pine marten.

In addition to the extensive cereal stubbles, Jack also plants crops specifically for the birds. The seed mix can include sunflower, cornflower, ox-eye daisy, plantain, knapweed, burdock and teasel. They are planted alongside hedgerows and they are allowed to stand over the winter. The hedges are cut in a particular way to give a tall, thick, bushy growth.

Jack also has grass swards with a mixture of grass and wild flower seeds. The swards are allowed to grow into the month of July to allow seed heads to develop and mature.

Then a local firm, Ecoseeds from Strangford, using a specialist brush-headed harvester, harvests the seed heads only, leaving the grass stalks intact. The seeds go into the specialist seeds market and are in demand from farmers and conservationists.

After the seeds are harvested, the grass is cut and made into hay as small bales, and mainly sold to horse owners.

The Kelly farm is one of over 80 farms in Co Down that work with the RSPB to help wildlife. There are many bird species on the endangered species list (the Red list) and need the highest priority for conservation.

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