Many of you will have followed the NFU annual conference last week and seen the Government’s long-awaited response to the Farming Regulation Task Force, chaired by Richard MacDonald. In it, the Government accepted most of the panel’s 220 recommendations, which aim to cut red tape in the agriculture industry.
On the positive side:
However, we have concerns about suggestions that regulation should only be used as a last resort; we believe that regulation has a vital role in farming. As land managers, we understand the importance of having proportionate, light-touch regulation that does not provide unnecessary burden. As conservationists, we also know how important it is to have agreed rules to prevent anyone making a profit by damaging our collective natural assets.
We hope the review will find a way forward that keeps things both practical and safe. It is possible to have a simpler, more streamlined system without weakening protection for the environment. Voluntary initiatives (e.g. Campaign for the Farmed Environment) have an important contribution to make but regulation remains an essential tool for safeguarding the environment and the public. In economic terms, findings from Defra’s own independently-conducted research show that the benefits of regulation can substantially outweigh the costs.
We will be supporting the Implementation Group that oversees how Government carries out the Task Force’s recommendations and keeping a close eye on how this important work develops. Hopefully it can strike the right balance in meeting the needs of farmers and the environment.
Did you hear Farming Today on Radio 4 this morning? EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş was interviewed at the NFU's Annual Conference. The opening interview question was "which is the most important role of farming - food production or environmental protection?". It's a question that we hear many times, in one form or another.
The Commissioner was quick to point out that it’s wrong to set the two in competition, and that we need environmental protection to ensure the long term competitiveness of our agriculture. Environmental protection can be successfully integrated into food production, e.g. concentrating on enhancing biodiversity in areas of lower production value. It's all about making the right choices. (We can all do with a little help making choices on occasions - check out our website for advice on choices to help wildlife, case studies, contact details for your local Farmland Advisor and more).
A great example of this in practice is the Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone, an exciting landscape scale project involving 14 neighbouring farmers in Cambridgeshire. In a area considered to be some of the most productive land in Europe, farmers are stepping up for nature together to maximise environmental benefits, whilst minimising impacts on production, and not affecting income.
It was great to see Farmers Weekly report on this exciting project today , saying it will “take ELS and HLS stewardship outcomes to new measures without hurting income”. Now that is the right answer to a long term future for wildlife, for farmers, for all.
Help! I hate birthdays, and I’m certainly not ready to be thirty. Last month, while visiting my mum’s farm in Wales, I had a bit of a revelation. I have spent the whole of my twenties away, and as I reluctantly enter the next decade, I‘ve been thinking about what I should do next, and whether it is about time I moved back to the farm to help look after it and take it into the future.
While I was there, albeit just for three days, I had three special bird of prey moments. They say thing come in threes don’t they.
Mum has (in my opinion) done an amazing job of turning the small farm into a wildlife haven over the last 15 years. If bird of prey, being at the top of the food-chain are a good indicator of biodiversity it couldn’t be better: in addition to the above, successes also include barn owls and goshawks having fledged young.
There is a special big oak tree by the kitchen window, sporting great spotted woodpeckers, treecreepers and nuthatches and all the usual tits including marsh tits and coal tits available to view on demand. We also had 60 Redwing stop by in that tree over lunch once!
In the last year, the ant hills have really started to show in the meadows, and as a reward, green woodpecker (rare in that neck of the woods) and mistle thrush have raised some big families. Grassland ecosystems in particular take time and careful management to build up, and her patience has finally paid off.
This land wouldn’t be any good for growing crops, but is ideal for raising high quality beef, which is always in demand and sold purely by word of mouth. It also produces ample firewood from several old coppices and has some interesting archaeology running through it, I think it has real potential for education as well.
Farmland has a lot more to offer than just food, and as a custodian of this small part of Wales and its wildlife my mother and I must take care to look after both it’s productivity, and recreational value.
I've been in celebratory mood since last week, and after a few computer-free days away am back on line and keen to share the good news with you.
You may have seen that last week we reported a huge increase in reed buntings at Fowlmere, one of our reserves in Cambridgeshire. We estimate that over 500 are now regularly roosting in the reserve's reed beds, which is great news for this amber-listed bird, as well as great news for visitors who have the chance to see this wildlife spectacle. This increase is due to wildlife-friendly farmers in the surrounding countryside integrating seed-rich planting into their land management in an effort to help seed-eating birds such as reed buntings. It is a perfect example of how working together really boosts wildlife on a bigger scale.
It is something we are going to need ever more of. We need farmers to continue to protect and enhance biodiversity in the face of demands for more food, and in spite of increasing challenges such as the anticipated drought that has been so much in the news this morning. We know its a tough challenge, but we also know it is achievable when we step up for nature together. So the success at Fowlmere, in the East that suffered so badly from drought last year, is good enough reason alone to get out a little celebratory bunting.
But that's not all. I'm also really excited that the story has been taken up well by the media. Good news stories can be quite difficult to get into the news, as a dash of disaster or the trace of a tussle peps up the readers and viewers interest far more. But this story made it into the Daily Telegraph, BBC News, Farmers Weekly, Farming Online, Charlie Moores' Talking Naturally podcast, as well as radio interviews, to name just a few.
Do you know my favourite headline in all this coverage? That's easy: "Farmers credited with Fowlmere reed bunting increase". An outright pat on the back for British farmers in the national media. Now that is worth a lot of bunting!
Don't forget, if you are a farmer doing your bit for wildlife, enter the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award today. You will help support wildlife-friendly farmers across the country, and you could even win £1,000.
Reed bunting: Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)
Sleek skylark with GSOH seeks warm-hearted farmer with a small plot of undrilled land to share lazy summer days for singing and possibly more. Text 0800 111 to come fly with me
Bright meadow buttercup looking for a foxy foxtail to share lady’s bedstraw for a bit of variety. All welcome to make hay with us – diversity makes life richer. Call 0800 222 for a summer of love.
Lonely turtle dove WLTM salt-of the earth type with own hedgerows. Coo in my ear on 0800 333
Stylish short-haired bumble bee looking for a caring landowner to share the nectar of life with. Own beetle bank an advantage. Give Honey a buzz on 0800 444
Enthusiastic RSPB Farmland Advisors seek wildlife-loving farmers everywhere for a future richer in wildlife. Share the love and find your nearest advisor here.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all the UK’s fabulous farmers helping to keep our countryside fit for wildlife. Show your love for wildlife today by entering the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award
Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)