Why you should visit Bickley Hall Farm
- Credit: Harry Hogg
Surrounded by the beautiful countryside, Bickley Hall Farm sits just outside Malpas village, along the Sandstone Trail, and is a must visit this winter, according to Cheshire Wildlife Trust
Bickley Hall Farm is a conservation treasure. The landscape has been managed free of pesticide and herbicide for more than 40 years, making it an extraordinary gem for our precious wildlife. Species-rich hay meadows and flower-rich margins show off their colour during the summer with displays of cornflower, field pansy, poppy and sun spurge. All of this is bordered by dense, diverse hedgerows, which are great for invertebrates and small mammals and, in particular, give hundreds of farmland birds in autumn and winter the helping hand they need.
The brown hare and water vole are also present as well as some vulnerable bird species such as the curlew, lapwing and grey partridge.
Winter is an exciting time of year for nature, especially at Bickley. Surrounding fields of spring-sown cereals with overwintered stubble host hundreds of finches, sparrows and other seed-eating birds, keeping them fuelled over the harsh winter months. A mosaic of wet meadows, intersected by a network of ditches and scattered ponds, is managed specifically for wintering and breeding wading birds such as the curlew.
Two of our most popular winter visitors at the farm are the fieldfare and the redwing. Both members of the thrush family, these birds are our over-wintering migrants that breed in continental Europe and Scandinavia in the summer months.
The redwing is the UK's smallest true thrush. They prefer to migrate by night in loose flocks to avoid waiting predators. Before launching off on to their single 500-mile journey across the North Sea, the redwing will gather along the Scandinavian coast until the sun sets on the day. What's possibly most impressive about migrating birds is their sheer determination to fly to their wintering spot, even in the harshest of weathers.
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Landing in October, they like to spend the autumn in hedges and orchards where they feed on fruit and berries. You may even see them in your local green space in search of juicy earthworms.
Whilst redwings are not considered to be globally threatened, harsh winters and wet summers can have an adverse effect on UK redwing populations. According to the RSPB, the UK winter population is currently 8.6 million, however there are only 13 breeding pairs here during the spring and summer months.
Slightly larger than the redwing, the fieldfare prefers eating grubs and worms, heading only into the hedgerows and orchards for fruits when the ground is frozen and not as easy to break through! There can be up to one million birds migrating here in the UK each year, but numbers can be largely driven by the extent of the berry crop in Scandinavia.
The fieldfare is extremely territorial over food and can be seen to deliberately ram larger birds whilst in flight. This gives them a much needed advantage during the cold winter months! Have you witnessed this behaviour in your gardens?
At the farm there is also a winter visit from the brambling. This is a very migratory bird from Scandinavia and areas across to Siberia, and is only here in the winter months - though a tiny number sometimes stay through the summer period and have even been known to breed. They can be found in beech woodlands and near to other wooded areas, and often visit gardens in search of food in mixed flocks with chaffinches.
We also get the odd snipe sighting. It loves to feast in marshes, wet grassland and moorlands where it nests in simple scrapes. It uses its long, probing bill to find insects, earthworms and crustaceans in the mud, typically swallowing prey whole. During the breeding season, males can be heard making a unique 'drumming' sound while their tail feathers vibrate in the wind as they perform their aerial courtship displays. Our farm ditches are the perfect place to feed on invertebrates during the winter months.
A gregarious species, males can be seen displaying to females by rubbing their legs against their wings to create a 'song' - in this case, it is a brief, single chirrup, repeated at short intervals. After mating, the eggs are laid in the soil ready to hatch in summer.