Located on the high south‐east facing slopes above Kidwelly, adjacent to the Ferryside road, the Burns Pet Nutrition holdings of Penlan Uchaf and Penlan Isaf farms amount to approximately 450 acres. Here, vegetables and grain crops are grown to form part of the well‐known Burns range of pet foods.
The staff at Burns Pet Nutrition are also committed to nature conservation and elements of their farmland are managed accordingly. They have taken advice from RSPB, the Bumblebee Trust and others to make their farms more attractive to wildlife whilst still forming part of a viable and competitive commercial enterprise. Roger Mathias (who had previously been an advisor with FWAG in Pembrokeshire), the farm manager Richard Gent and Rowan Flindall all have been co‐ordinating the conservation efforts. This has already borne fruit with impressive numbers of seed eating birds being present in winter 2010‐ 11. These included up to 80 Stock doves, 800 Linnets and 250 Skylarks – numbers not normally seen nowadays and various raptors obviously noted these bird concentrations with up to three Hen harriers present on one day.
The aspiration is to attract such numbers of seed eating birds every winter and to try to entice increased numbers and variety of breeding birds. Hopefully, the latter will include the Yellowhammer (a singleton turned up last winter), a farmland bird still relatively frequent as late as the 1970s but which has declined dramatically both throughout the UK and also in Carmarthenshire, where only a tiny handful of pairs hang on in 'ffridd' habitat in the north‐east of the county.
Roger Mathias, the firm’s conservation advisor, says that the aim is to increase the food source for birds. They manage a 5m headland around all fields which are mown on a rotational basis. These not only protect the hedges but also provide faunal habitat, including winter cover for invertebrates. Some headlands have been deliberately sown with plants particularly suited to produce seeds for visiting birds and, indeed, large flocks have been attracted. Sowings include Sunflower Helianthus anuus, Phacelia Phacelia tanacetifolia, Corn Marigold Glebionis segetum, Common Poppy Papaver rhoeas, Quinoa Chenopodium quinoa and other chenopods. Sunflowers have been a mixed success and it has been found that semi‐dwarf (5ft) varieties are best: they provide perches as well as food in their flower‐heads but the seeds also fall to suit ground‐ feeders. Stubbles are also left over winter to attract birds and provide cover. New hedgerows have
Above: Sown Phacelia and Common Poppy with Common Orache Atriplex patula, Shepherd’s‐purse Capsella bursa‐pastoris, Pale Persicaria Persicaria lappathifolia and Sun Spurge Euphorbia helioscopica from the seed‐bank.
Photo: Richard Pryce
The County Botanical Recorder, Richard Pryce, together with his wife Kath, surveyed some of the fields in late August 2011 where the regularly disturbed soil of the field margins and vegetable rows (root crops and brassicas are grown as well as cereals) have proved to be a haven for arable weeds, a group of plants which are much less common in the mostly pastoral or intensively farmed modern landscape in the county where arable and cereals growing is now relatively little practiced. Most of these must have germinated from seed in the soil seed‐bank despite the fields, prior to Burns’ ownership, having been managed as permanent pasture for many years. It is therefore testament to the longevity of these weed seeds remaining viable for many years in the seed‐bank despite there having been no opportunity for plants to germinate, grow and set seed, thus replenishing the seed source.
Arable weeds recorded during the visit include the relatively uncommon Fool's Parsley Aethusa cynapium, Parsley Piert Aphanes arvensis, Wild Oat Avena fatua, Black Bindweed Fallopia convolvulus, Sharp‐leaved Fluellen Kickxia elatine, Black Nightshade Solanum nigrum, Corn Spurrey Spergula arvensis, Field Woundwort Stachys arvensis, Field Pansy Viola arvensis and Cut‐leaved Dead‐nettle Lamium hybridum. There were also at least a dozen commoner weed species such as Common Orache Atriplex patula, Fat‐hen
Chenopodium album, Red Dead‐nettle Lamium purpureum, Common Ramping‐fumitory Fumaria muralis ssp.boraei, Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis, Shepherd's‐purse Capsella bursa ‐pastoris, Sticky Mouse‐ear Cerastium glomeratum, Sun Spurge Euphorbia helioscopia, Redshank Persicaria maculosa, Pale Pericaria P. lapathifolia, Common Chickweed Stellaria media, Wall Speedwell Veronica arvensis and Common Field Speedwell V. persica.
Finally, an area immediately behind the Burns offices has been developed to provide a wildlife garden that simultaneously functions as a place where staff can relax when the weather is suitable, with views over the Lower Gwendraeth Valley across the estuary and towards Pembrey Forest. Here, an orchard has been planted (again good for nectar in spring and with 'windfalls' for birds in winter), as well as a range of nectar‐ rich and insect‐friendly plants.
It is very pleasing to record the efforts being made to promote wildlife conservation at a time when most farmland is becoming impoverished for many forms of biodiversity and Burns Pet Foods have other plans to do works on other habitats locally... watch this space!