Swallows fly higher on hemp

April 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm 1 comment

A recent study by leading wildlife research charity the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), has identified that hemp, commonly associated with marijuana, is not only becoming a profitable crop for growers as it has many commercial applications such as the manufacture of car body panels and eco housing; it is also a highly prized crop for swallows and whitethroat.

The study, carried out by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust was investigating the wildlife benefits of growing hemp compared with oilseed rape and field beans; two other commonly grown field crops.

The study revealed that all three crops were used by birds as habitats for gathering food during the nesting season, but hemp was also used as a roosting site by swallows before their southward migration at the end of the summer.

Flocks of more than a thousand swallows were seen using the hemp fields on the GWCT’s research farm in Leicestershire.  Another migratory bird that was associated with hemp was whitethroat, a warbler that breeds on farmland throughout the UK.

Some other bird species made more use of oilseed rape and bean crops. As methods have improved for processing hemp the crop is becoming more widely grown with the fibres being used in the textile and paper industries, as well as finding other uses such as car body panels and construction blocks for the building industry. It has become one of the fastest growing biomass crops producing up to 7.5 tonnes per hectare per year. An important consideration of growing this crop in this country is to discover whether its cultivation has any negative effects on farmland wildlife.

Dr Chris Stoate, Head of Research at the GWCT research farm said, “We know that hemp has low requirement for inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, but we needed to investigate whether there are any effects on wildlife of a crop that is relatively new to modern farming systems.

“Our research found that numbers of insects, including those used as food by birds, were broadly similar in the three different crop types.  Weed cover and weed species did not differ greatly between the crops, which was surprising as hemp grows vigorously, shading out competing weeds so that herbicides are not needed.”

Growing hemp has other environmental advantages as well.  Dr Stoate explains, “The wider environmental benefits for growing this crop are considerable. The findings confirm that hemp benefits some wildlife species, as well as requiring minimum pesticide and fertiliser use during production.  Another bonus of this crop is that it provides an environmentally friendly end product in terms of carbon sequestration and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.” The research was carried out at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project research farm at Loddington, Leicestershire, and was funded by Hemp Technology, a leading processor of hemp for the construction industry.  The results were recently published at a conference in Edinburgh.


Photocaption:  New research on the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s research farm in Leicestershire has identified that hemp is a prized crop for swallows and whitethroat. Pictured: Dr Chris Stoate, head of research on the GWCT’s farm, in the hemp crop that formed part of the study. Original source: http://www.gwct.org.uk/about_us/news/3585.asp


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