Blogger: Niki Williamson, Fenland Farmland Bird Adviser
How do you enjoy your new potatoes?
I like to keep it simple – get them as fresh as possible, boil them till they’re just cooked, and eat them piping hot, with British butter and mint from the garden – a perfect combination.
So you can imagine my pleasure when, on arriving at Hall Farm near Thorney in Cambridgeshire, I was greeted with a warm handshake and a couple of handfuls of spuds straight out of the ground.
Being at the receiving end of a kind gesture such as this is definitely one of the perks of my job as a Farmland Bird Adviser. But it’s not really about the vegetables. It’s about feeling part of a community. Farmers share things like equipment and knowledge. Today I am here to answer some of Charles’ questions about the best ways to establish nectar-rich mixes to ensure longevity and success. And he is answering mine about potatoes, wheat varieties and cropping rotations.
The RSPB helped Charles renew his Entry Level Stewardship scheme last year.
His old agreement relied somewhat on earning ‘points’ by completion of management plans for soil and nutrients, a paper exercise no longer available in Stewardship schemes. We replaced these lost ‘points’ with lots of exciting ‘in-field options’ which provide real habitat on the ground for birds, insects and mammals alike. Charles is now not only doing his bit for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment but is also providing fallow ground for his resident breeding lapwing population, nectar-rich habitat for his bees and butterflies, and winter seed food for his corn buntings and linnets – another perfect combination.
This is by far the biggest perk of my job. I get to see his farm becoming more alive with flowers, insects and birds, thanks to the habitat we created together. It is very satisfying to know that the process we are part of is a conversation, a discussion, ensuring the best outcomes for everyone.
The RSPB gives farmers the opportunity to access high quality free advice on how to help farm wildlife. And, certainly in my part of the world, it seems the uptake is increasing all the time.
At a recent event for farmers we asked them the question “What would encourage you to do more for wildlife on your farm?”
Instead of the responses you might expect, like “More money” or “I’m already doing enough”, the most popular response by a mile was “Advice on how to do it”.
When it comes to stepping up for Nature and making our countryside a better place, could it be that RSPB advisers and enthusiastic farmers are a perfect combination...?
Well, the wait is over and we finally have our Nature of Farming Award finalists - and I just about have some fingernails left!
After much deliberation, our expert panel of judges have announced Robert Law, David White, Robert Kynaston and Somerset & Carolyne Charrington as this year's top four. Their efforts to create and maintain habitats for a huge range of species are incredible, and all without sacrificing a profitable farming business, and we're really excited to be able to promote their hard work to the wider public.
Our other winners from across the UK also deserve a special mention - with such fantastic examples of farmers stepping up to do their bit for nature, our judging panel had some really tough decisions to make.
But their job is done now, and it's over to you to tell us who you think should be crowned the UK winner. From corncrake to curlew, cornsalad and chalkhill blue, these farmers have a wealth of biodiversity to tempt you to into voting for them!
Vote on the website, or if you're at Game Fair this weekend, come and see us for a voting card and a chat. You can also vote over the phone on 0870 601 0215. Voting closes on 31 August and all voters will be entered into a prize draw to won a luxury break for two!
The next six weeks will be full of nervous excitement for all of us as we wait to find out who will emerge triumphant.So cast your vote now, safe in the knowledge that whoever it turns out to be, wildlife is the real winner.
This time of year is always quite exciting for me – lots of things to see and do in the countryside and hopefully the odd sunny day here and there... But for the last four years there’s been something else to get excited about – finding out who our winners are in the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award!
Since April, our regional judging teams have been busy sifting through hundreds of applications and visiting farmers across their local patch to decide who to crown champion for each region and country. And finally, we know who they are! Have a look and see what they’ve been up to. This year we also introduced a Highly Commended category to the competition, so congratulations to the farmers involved – all excellent examples of how wildlife and profitable farming can go hand in hand.
The anticipation doesn’t end there though – four will make it through to the final, where we ask the general public will vote for the UK Winner. Find out on Friday who our expert panel of judges decided should go through and how to cast your vote! I'm just hoping I have some fingernails left by the end of August when the votes are counted. At the moment it doesn't seem too promising...
Farmers are always looking for the best solutions to common problems particularly when it comes to yields. Oscar Wilde once said “Even though we are in the gutter, some of us are still looking up at the stars”. In some ways this can be applied to farming (in the nicest possible way!). However in this case, even though farmers are looking after crops, we can still keep looking for solutions towards the margins – the gutters of the arable field.
The latest news shows that the numbers of crop aphids flying have increased in all areas, little deterred by the high temperatures and with a resistance to chemicals.
Each of the many aphid species has its own life cycle, but there are some features uniting nearly all of them. One feature most species share is that they are incredibly prolific. Wingless adult female aphids can produce 50 to 100 offspring. A newly born aphid becomes a reproducing adult within about a week and then can produce up to 5 offspring per day for up to 30 days. An even more amazing feature of life cycles of most aphid species is that reproduction during at least part of its life cycle can be accomplished without the help of male aphids! Young are born from females without the benefit of sexual reproduction, in a process known technically as parthenogenesis. Babies have no fathers!
The warmer the weather the faster the lifecycle, so development, reproduction and migration can occur in as little as five to seven days.
Many farmers are looking to new techniques to battle these crops pests and wildlife is an essential tool, an ecosystem service that can help control the numbers of crop pests. Insecticides can also kill off non-target organisms including beneficial insects; a service we can call upon, the use of beneficial insects and insect eating birds is pivotal to the success of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
Ladybirds, both as larvae and adults, consume huge numbers of aphids daily. Many small birds eat aphids such as skylarks. The larvae of many lacewing and several species of hoverflies also have sweet tooth for them.
Look to the gutters/margins and short workings of your fields and protect and enhance them for predatory insects and birds. We can achieve this through the options available through agri-environment schemes, particularly areas that produce insect rich habitat from uncropped cultivated margins and nectar flower mixes or margins whilst in-field boost the numbers of insect eating birds with the inclusion of skylark plots and predatory insects with beetle banks. Such options can be used to incorporate these vicious yet lovely predators to work for you and the farms spray bill!
Have you ever wondered why flowers make people smile? Many things that make us happy are things that promote our survival - a good square meal, a thirst-quenching drink on a sunny day.
But what about flowers? Sure they’re nice to look at, but you can’t really live off them, or use them to fight off predators. But I love walking to my front door through the colourful blooms alongside the garden path. And on those rare occasions when my fella brings me a bunch of flowers, my grin lasts all evening! So if we’ve evolved to feel happy about flowers, maybe they’re more than just a pretty face.
Farmer Andrew Brodie obviously feels the same. He’s managing nearly four hectares of nectar rich habitat on his Cambridgeshire farm, through a Higher Level Stewardship scheme.
The habitat consists of patches of flowering plants, chosen especially with nectar-feeding insects in mind. Clovers, Lucerne, Sainfoin, Black Medick and Birdsfoot Trefoil flower alongside each other, splashing the farm with colour.
But by planting the mix he is not only growing flowers, he’s feeding bees, butterflies and beetles. In turn they’re eating aphids which would otherwise be spreading disease in his crops. They’re also pollinating crops like oilseed rape and beans – pollinating insects are thought to be worth £430 million annually to the UK farming industry. They’re also producing lots of yummy caterpillars which Andrew’s resident corn buntings, grey partridges and lapwings can feed to their chicks.
Andrew is not new to Stewardship, having been in the Entry Level Scheme since it began. He planted some of these patches back in 2005 and they are still going strong, thanks to his careful management. By cutting half the area in June he extends the flowering season, and by cutting the whole lot again in autumn he is continually removing nutrients from the system that would otherwise encourage grass to dominate the flowers.
With help from RSPB advisers, Andrew is stepping up for Nature. “It’s crucial that modern farming goes hand in hand with environmental concerns,” he says as we stroll through the flowers, surrounded by lazy buzzing. “We’ve got to look after our bugs, bees and birds so we can carry on ourselves.”
Andrew Brodie loves Nature. And he’s saying it with flowers.