Mid-tier funding can benefit keepers as well as farmers

A man holding a handful of bird seed

The role of gamekeepers in helping to reduce winter mortalities of farmland song birds is long established - Credit: Bright Seeds

Ben Dolbear from Bright Seeds takes a close look at supplementary feeding and explains why the upcoming Mid-Tier funding has as much to do with the gamekeeper as it does the farmer

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme will open in 2022 and will remain open for applications until 2023. Within the new agreements, Mid-Tier supplementary feeding (code AB12) has a particular relevance to the game sector. It supersedes the previous 

Higher Level Stewardship scheme (code HF24) and has a Capital Grants element as well as Mid-Tier funding.  
The Capital Grants provides funding for water and air quality improvements as well as for hedges and dry-stone wall improvements. Mid-Tier provides capital grant funding for the same elements, but crucially offers greater funding than the capital grant on its own.  

Access to Mid-Tier funding requires structures to be in place to improve the natural environment and the diversity of wildlife, water, and air quality. This will then provide environmental benefits and result in reduced carbon admissions. 

Supplementary feeding 
The role of keepers in helping to reduce winter mortalities of farmland song birds is long established, yet plugging the hungry gap (December to April) continues to be a great challenge. This is the reason supplementary feeding has featured in stewardship schemes from the early days, and is a vital component of Mid- and High-Tier agreements (code AB12) and will be included in the upcoming Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS). 

Many shoots have been planting conservation margins and winter bird food mixes long before government funding was available. At present, many stewardship options are compatible to use within a shooting estate. Winter Bird Feed (AB9), for example, can be tailored towards the game cover market, and new Mid-Tier options such as Autumn Bumble Bird (this autumn-planted mix works well as brood-rearing cover) can be another useful option. By working alongside the farm in establishing options that will be most financially rewarding, shoots can directly benefit from the increase in stewardship area.  

Autumn bumble bird cover mix

A new Mid-Tier option - Autumn Bumble Bird. This autumn-planted mix works well as brood-rearing cover - Credit: Bright Seeds

How does Mid-Tier work? 
Farmers and land managers can enter five-year agreements for revenue and capital payments and Wildlife Offer revenue-only agreements. These funds will support practices that deliver a range of environmental benefits.  

With Mid-Tier you can apply for as many or as few options as you like and can include revenue as well as capital options. There are 150+ options to choose from with the most common being: 

  • Permanent grassland with very low inputs (£95/ha) 
  • Management of hedgerows (£8/100m) 
  • Winter bird food (£640/ha) 
  • Overwinter stubble (£84/ha) 
  • 4–6m buffer on cultivated land (£353/ha) 
  • Tree surgery, coppicing (£96.50-200/tree) 
  • Fencing (£4/m) 
  • Wooden field gate (£390/gate) 
  • Planting new hedges (£11.60/m) 
  • Concrete yard renewal (£27.14/sqm; high water quality priority areas only) 
  • Livestock and machinery hardcore tracks (£33/m; high water quality priority areas only) 

This is just a small selection of options which are available within the grant, the scheme can be tailored to the individual and particular areas. 

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The current AB12 option is only available to those growing a minimum of 1ha AB9 in their agreement. Under the arrangement, the grower gets paid £632 per tonne feed they make available between December and April. 

Tonnage is limited to 1 tonne per 2ha of AB9 in the agreement and it has to be ratio of 70% cereals with 30% specialist small seeds and must be fed at a rate not less than 25kg at two designated ‘feeding areas’, which must be firm and free-draining, and in close proximity to enhanced overwinter stubbles, game cover or wild bird mixtures. 

Only agreements with the AB12 option can have feed rides and feed hoppers in AB9 (winter bird feed) plots. 
Bright Seeds provide both a pre-mix for use with home grown wheat and a full mix where the wheat is already included.  

Records must be kept and only 10% of the feed can be fed through hoppers. This option is incredibly attractive to any farm that accommodates a shoot as the keeper/farmer is already having to go out and place feed, so might as well get paid to do it! The option also makes extending the feed period post-shooting financially viable.

Prohibited activities 
On your annual claim you will be asked to declare that you have not carried out any prohibited activities. Mid-Tier rules prevent the: 

  • use of hoppers to supply more than 10% of the total amount of feed provided during the specified feeding period 
  • use of tailings (small seeds and chaff removed from the harvested crop) as supplementary feed 
  • use of a mix which contains more than 70% cereals 
  • use any one species to supply more than 50% of the non-cereal seed component by weight 

Small seed species that can be used: 

  • Canary seed 
  • Linseed 
  • Oil seed rape 
  • Red millet 
  • Sunflower hearts 
  • White millet 

The certified mix can be achieved through using Bright Seeds AB12 pre mix (for the 30% of small seeds) with 70% farm saved wheat. Once the regulatory mix has been satisfied, maize can be fed in addition, and a popular option is Bright’s Cut Maize with aniseed to give extra starch/protein to help farmland and game birds ride out the colder months. 

Benefits to shooting:

  • Diverse feeding for game birds – variety is the spice of life! 
  • Keepers/farmers are already out feeding so this makes financial sense 
  • It pays the farmer/keeper to extend feeding past the end of the shoot season 
  • Wild game birds will benefit from the option as it will help to improve the bird’s condition coming in to the breeding season 
  • Decreases the mortality rate of farmland songbirds

Top tip 
Make sure the winter supplementary feeding mix includes cereals (not maize) at 70% and other small seeds at 30% (this is a minimum of 30% of the total mix by weight). The small seed mix must contain at least three species with no individual species being more than 50% by weight.