I like this short adage – it sums up what many detailed actions for helping wildlife are ultimately about, not just on farmland, but everywhere we care to manage – from our gardens to parks and verges. It also gets across that helping wildlife is mostly about attitude.... that deliberately not doing something can be as much of an action for wildlife as doing something.
However, being less neat and tidy can be a brave step for all of us. In our garden, we leave patches of grass uncut through the summer. A lot of the time, especially when it’s wet and miserable, it can look a bit of a mess and we threaten to ‘sort it out’ the next dry weekend. But we usually hold our nerve, and when the sun does eventually come out we remember exactly why we did it and resolve to do it again next year. The transformation can seem magical when the garden comes alive with butterflies – nothing particularly rare.....just lots and lots of ‘browns’ like ringlets, meadow browns and gatekeepers that have only reached this advanced stage of their lifecycle because we left their ‘food plants’ unmanaged for long enough. The old boy who regularly strims our local churchyard has even taken to deliberately missing areas between cuts. This is a really brave step for a used churchyard, but the fleeting show of flowering ox-eye daisies, yarrow, scabious and other plants in this old grassland is stunning and there doesn't seem to be any sensitivity to the reduced neatness.
Many farmers are doing their bit to help wildlife by deliberately having some ‘less tidy’ bits where it doesn’t affect the bottom line. Farmers who do this deserve a lot of credit. Their ‘scruffier bits’ are not hidden behind a garden fence, but laid out bare for neighbours and passers by to view. We all care a bit about what our peers think of us, and sometimes in farming ‘neat and tidy’ is seen as synonymous with ‘good farming'. Luckily, many extremely good farmers are changing this attitude. I recently visited a farm that exemplifies what can be achieved with this attitude. Tim Price and his brother Chris farm a very well run dairy enterprise in south Warwickshire. It’s not a huge farm and they don’t feel they can give up a lot of land for deliberate conservation measures. But they have a real passion for wildlife and try to make the absolute most out of the areas they can help wildlife with. Tall thick hedges abutted by rough grassland, wide unkempt ditch margins, awkward corners of flower rich grass and weedy areas around the farm buildings – even some gaps in the stonework of farm buildings have been deliberately left cement free to benefit their sparrows. So keen are the Prices to promote wildlife friendly farming that for years they have been running a competition with their local NFU to recognise farmers in their area who are stepping up to help wildlife.
As you drive through the countryside, you can often notice where this attitude has spread in farmland, and where it hasn’t reached yet. Though taller, thicker, hedges make it harder for nosey parkers like me to get a good look....another reason for being a bit less ‘neat & tidy’ perhaps.