Beetle Banks Prove Successful for Endangered Farm Birds at Blenheim Palace
In 2014 Blenheim Palace, with the support of Natural England, embarked on a project to halt the decline in farmland birds by focussing neatly 200 acres of arable land across the Estate to a wide range of environmental techniques.
The Rural Team created two large Beetle Banks in the middle of their arable fields to provide a safe haven for small mammals, insects and ground-nesting birds. One year on, the banks are successfully providing habitats and food for Britain’s endangered farm birds, with many other insects and wildlife making them their home.
As well as providing homes for some of Britain’s native and ‘at risk’ wildlife, the Blenheim Palace Beetle Banks also work to slow rainfall run off and prevent excessive soil erosion.
The banks are a part of Blenheim Palace’s Environmental Stewardship Programme, developed to support farmland birds, including the Corn Bunting population which has fallen in numbers by 85% since 1970. They are also part of a wider initiative to increase the abundance of wildlife, which starts with invertebrates and ends with farmland birds.
The beetle banks support a high density of large ground beetles and smaller rove beetles, however as the banks are newly established the variety of colonies are not yet known. It can take many years for a beetle bank to fully flourish, although Rural Manager Roy Cox is confident that the banks are providing a habitat for a wide variety of species already.
Roy Cox, Rural Manager says: “We installed the Beetle Banks in March 2014. It usually takes about two years for the bank seed to fully establish and have maximum benefits for invertebrates, but more often than not you can see results even in the first year.”
He continues: “Already there are a range of insects including moths, grasshoppers, butterflies, spiders and red-tailed bumblebees, and the team are beginning to log species and numbers of mammals and birds. We are already pleased with the results.”
To get the best out of their banks Blenheim Palace have established strips of nectar seed or have left unharvested crops either side – and where possible have left both. Known as ‘buffer strips’ they run parallel delivering additional benefits to wildlife such as extra habitat, shelter and food.
The banks run the length of the field and are approx. 2m wide to provide habitats in the middle of the field away from the headland strips and hedgerows. The Beetle Banks are designed to end before the perimeter of the fields, the aim of this is to discourage predators, who use the field edge to hunt.
When creating a Beetle Bank you want a free draining soil which will leave the upper bank area dry for insects to hibernate securely. Banks are established by ploughing the land into the centre of the plot to create a bank of higher soil. Planting work begins in September starting with establishing grasses and fescues to form a tussocky habitat, regular and timely cutting and maintenance will then allow the Beetle Bank and its inhabitants to thrive.