This edition’s Species Spotlight highlights wildlife supported by the hard work of CRT volunteers. As you’ve read, volunteers get involved in a huge variety of conservation projects on our farms, so there are hundreds of species we could have featured here. Our Wildlife Monitors have picked three of their favourites, some rare and others more familiar.


Supporting scarce tree sparrows

By Dr Vince Lea, Head of Wildlife Monitoring

Smaller and shyer than their cousins the house sparrow, you’re very lucky if you see a tree sparrow. Not only are they likely to hide away in a hedgerow, but this Red-listed species has suffered a severe decline in the UK, estimated at 93 per cent between 1970 and 2008. Thanks to the efforts of CRT volunteers a host of tree sparrows continues to breed successfully at Margaret Wood in Yorkshire.

Tree sparrows naturally nest in tree holes, but the loss of mature woodland across the country means these are harder to find. Volunteers at Margaret Wood provide nest boxes for the tree sparrows, clearing them out before each nesting season and replacing damaged ones.

Volunteers have also built two ponds and continue to maintain them. These offer ideal habitat for insects like damselflies, which tree sparrows catch and feed to their young.

CRT Chairman of the Board of Trustees Nicholas Watts MBE, owner of Vine House Farm Bird Foods, donates red millet, the tree sparrow’s favourite seed, to Margaret Wood. Edward Noble, a contractor and volunteer, keeps the farm’s bird feeders topped up with this to help the tree sparrows through the winter.


Each pair of tree sparrows may rear two or three broods in a year. They nest in groups and will pop in and out of each other’s nest boxes. Unlike house sparrows, some fly south during the winter months.

Magic plant for meadow restoration

By Andy Fale, Wildlife Monitoring Officer for Dorset

Yellow rattle is an unassuming plant, usually reaching 10-20cm tall, but it is a vital tool that helps to convert grass-dominated pastures into flower-rich meadows.

This is because it is partially parasitic on grasses and reduces their vigour, making space for other wildflowers to establish.

The plant’s yellow tubular flowers appear in May and June and attract bumblebees, moths and butterflies, which use their long tongues to reach the nectar. The ripe seeds rattle inside the dry pods – giving the plant its name.

At Bere Marsh Farm, yellow rattle and other wildflower seeds have been sown in a small field and on verges alongside the Dorset Trailway as part of our work to increase biodiversity.


Caterpillars of the grass rivulet moth feed on yellow rattle’s ripening seeds. The plant’s leaves can be used to make a yellow dye for colouring fabrics.

Hedge laying for hedgehogs

By Ruth Moss, Wildlife Monitoring Officer for Herefordshire

photo credit Nick Dobbs

Like pigs, our other ‘hog’ friends, hedgehogs, rootle in the undergrowth looking for earthworms and other invertebrates to eat.

This adorable nocturnal creature is under threat in our countryside. In February 2022, the People's Trust for Endangered Species and The British Hedgehog Preservation Society reported that hedgehog populations might be starting to recover in towns and cities but continued to decline by up to 75 per cent in rural areas between 2000 and 2020. It is likely that agricultural intensification has played a part in this, particularly where hedgerows have been removed.

As their name suggests, hedges are important for hedgehogs’ survival, because they provide shelter from their main predator, badgers. The quality of a hedge matters. When there are large gaps and the trees resemble a mushroom shape, ground-dwelling hedgehogs are left vulnerable.

Hedge laying moves branches low to the ground and encourages the hedge to grow back more densely. This winter, volunteers have carried out this traditional management technique at Turnastone Court Farm, and on many other CRT farms, to enhance hedgerows for hedgehogs and other wildlife.


A hedgehog has around 5,000 spines. Each drops out after a year and then a replacement grows. They are usually solitary, pairing up only to mate.

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Published in The Lark magazine, May 2023