During the first ten years, the RSPB has achieved its core objective for Hope Farm, showing that increasing farmland bird populations could be achieved whilst running a profitable conventional arable farm. In fact, the results have far exceeded expectations. However, it remains clear that sadly this success is not being reflected nationally with the national Farmland Bird Indicator (FBI) best considered stable. There remains a need to export our farmland biodiversity success story so it can be translated into national increases. The Campaign for the Farmed Environment should help address this increasing the area of in field options such as wild bird cover, skylark plots and nectar mixtures.
To maximise the messages from Hope Farm we have spent the winter working on the next five year strategy, which has now successfully been taken through Board and Council. The aim is for the RSPB to expand the sites capacity to examine the developing areas of climate change and diffuse pollution, whilst continuing to build on the biodiversity successes of the last ten years, and maintaining agricultural productivity and economic returns.
In order to retain our relevance within the debate and continue to work towards our core objectives, it the Hope Farm strategy will incorporate the following four principles:
A) Maximising biodiversity
Farmland bird recovery remains a key objective for the RSPB. We are currently analysing land management decisions and bird population responses over the last 10 years to fully understand which factors have had the biggest impact on our FBI increases. This will evaluate the benefits of individual measures and assess which combination would give the most cost effective benefits in the widest range of arable scenarios. Future work will include develop agri-environment options that provide winter seed food for the "hungry gap" period - mid February to mid April as well as refining our farm management to encourage species that have failed to respond so far e.g. turtle dove and corn bunting.
B) Maintaining a profitable business
Day-to-day management decisions will continue to be given equal weight to the impacts on the economic return of the farm as to the enhancement of its environmental value. This philosophy will become even more essential with greater flexibility in commodity prices.
C) Responding to climate change
We will aim to reduce the farm's total greenhouse gas footprint by 15% within the next 5 years. We propose to develop and demonstrate measures to reduce the farm's greenhouse gas footprint in line with the proposed target for the agriculture sector. Emphasis will be placed on "lowering the carbon profile of commercial arable farming" by maximising food production per tonne of carbon.
D) Reducing diffuse pollution
Establish a robust baseline monitoring programme in consultation with conservation science, water and agricultural policy, to estimate current levels of nitrate, phosphate and soil particulate entering watercourses on Hope Farm. This programme will need to be extensive, incorporating regular and peak rainfall sampling.
All very interesting. Can you tell me whether you monitor for other taxa on the farm, most importantly insects - after all, many bird species depend on a healthy invertebrate population to sustain their breeding cycle. I understand that a healthy bird population is an indirect indicator of how well invertebrates are doing, but in some options such as wild bird cover benefit birds almost exclusively. I have looked at a few nectar mixtures in my area and haven't found much evidence they are heavily used by pollinators, so am wondering what studies are taking place.
Thanks very much for your comment, you are absolutely right, insects and their larvae are an extremely important part of bird diets and we would expect that the diversity and quantity of them would increase if we create a more diverse range of habitats. With regard to the specifics, yes we have and are monitoring a wider range of taxa over and above birds. Annually we monitor the invertebrates in a number of different ways. Butterflies are monitored through two transects across the farm as part of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. In general the numbers have increased primarily through the florisitic habitats we create, although I have to admit the annual totals and species composition are a lot more dependant on the weather than birds. Other invertebrate taxa are monitored through pitfall trapping (designed to catch surface moving invertebrates such as carabid beetles) and vortis sampling (designed to monitor flying insects).
Our wider background monitoring by researchers and volunteers have recorded over 100 species of spider, 23 species of dragonfly and damselfly, and over 350 macro moths and 100 micro moths, proof perhaps that standard agricultural land is more interesting than we would normally consider.
Finally we are carrying out research into how to maximise the benefits of floristic margins for biodiversity with reading university examining both how our management of these margins effects the invertebrate and plant communities. The research on floristic grass margins and pollen and nectar mixtures generally show that adding flowers increases invertebrate numbers but to moximise their benefit they require regular maintanence.
Hope this helps