Most folk involved in arable farming will either have visited or know of Cereals, one of Europe’s premier agricultural shows. This year the show was held on 10-11th June at Boothby Graffoe, and the RSPB hosted a stand along with approximately 1000 other exhibitors.
Picture 1: RSPB Stand at Cereals 2015. (Anna Broszkiewicz).
With so much to grab visitors attention, we had to stand out, and our star attraction this year was a hand-made barn owl box, one of three specially made for the show. Throughout the two days the box attracted a huge amount of attention, and it was fantastic to hear from so many farmers who have owls on their farm. For the chance to win an owl box, visitors we asked to answer three quiz questions about barn owls. At the end of the show the first three correct answers drawn won a box. The lucky winners have all now been informed and are looking forward to installing the boxes on their land. Those entering the competition could also sign up for the RSPB’s farming e-newsletter, a quarterly summary of farming related stories from this blog.
Picture 2: Visitors flock to enter the barn owl box competition. The box (right) was one of three specially made for the show. (Anna Broszkiewicz).
Our main offering this year was a series of free 1-2-1 Countryside Stewardship advice sessions for farmers. During these sessions and RSPB advisors used digital mapping to help farmers plan the Countryside Stewardship options on their farm. The mapping module with the new Countryside Stewardship options was specially designed for the show, and the sessions generated a lot of interest. One farmer commented they were ‘the best thing I’ve seen all day’! The sessions could be pre-booked and nearly all available slots were filled.
Picture 3: Senior Conservation Officer Niki Williamson discusses Countryside Stewardship options with a farmer during a 1-2-1 session. (Anna Broszkiewicz).
The sessions were a unique offering at the show, and helped bridge the current information gap for those farmers whose old schemes are ending and who are looking to apply for Countryside Stewardship. There are a number of differences between the old and new schemes, and Senior Policy Officer Tom Lancaster offers a run-down of the key points in his blog here. Keep an eye out on this blog for further news on the new scheme in the coming months. Countryside Stewardship is a powerful tool to support wildlife friendly farmers and we were very pleased at the level of interest the 1-2-1 sessions generated. As a result of attending one of the sessions at Cereals, a farmer has just submitted his Expression of Interest form, the first to have been submitted for Nottinghamshire!
The support among stand visitors and passers-by for managing a proportion of farmland for wildlife was gauged by using a straw poll to answer the following question; 'Would you be prepared to answer 3-5% of you land for wildlife through an agri-environment scheme?" On both days the overall answer was a resounding yes. More specifically, the net result from 71 votes over two days was; Yes = 59 (83%), No = 5 (7%) and It depends = 7 (10%).
Picture 4: Coloured vases were filled with water for the straw poll, the results of which were very encouraging. (Anna Broszkiewicz).
As in previous years, we were very lucky to have the support of two guest Farmers, Martin Lines and Steve Bumstead, who both joined us on the stand for several hours. Their knowledge and expertise was invaluable and we look forward to working with them in the future to promote wildlife friendly farming. We also welcomed Katie Cruickshank from Butterfly Conservation onto the stand to offer advice on how to manage farmland for butterflies. It was a pleasure to see our stand so busy throughout the show, with folk popping in to chat to advisors, book 1-2-1 sessions, browse the leaflets available or just have a cup of tea. Katie later commented that, “ I was so impressed by the service that the RSPB was offering and the level of positive energy on the stand- it was definitely the most interactive stand that I saw on my wanderings'!
Picture 5: The stand was buzzing throughout the show. Many visitors were proud of the wildlife on their farm and were seeking advice on schemes to help support continuing management for wildlife. (Anna Broszkiewicz).
Butterfly Conservation is working in partnership with the RSPB, other wildlife charities and industry experts to develop a new online advisory tool for farmers. When it is launched next year, the FarmWildlife website will provide farmers and their advisors with the best advice available on how to manage farmland for wildlife. There will also be case studies, a questions forum and guest blogs throughout the year. Keep an eye out for further publicity
Many thanks are due to the great number of staff who helped with the show, and to the visitors who came along to the stand, your interest and enquires made for an inspiring and stimulating two days. I hope some of you reading this will have been among those visitors, and if not, we look forward to welcoming you at Cereals next year.
By Rebecca O'Dowd (Agricultural Communications Manager).
One of the real pleasures of working at Hope Farm is showing visitors around. Many of our visitors are specifically invited due to their areas of work, influence or interest such as the visit by Farming Minister George Eustice MP last autumn at a crucial time during negotiations about future agri-environment schemes.
George Eustice MP visiting Hope Farm in October 2014 (copyright: Amy Bell, Defra)
As crucial as that type of visit was some of the more enjoyable visits are those my groups of people who are just interested in what we do. A really great opportunity to do this is during Open Farm Sunday, a nationwide event run by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming). Over 400 farms opened their gates this year and were visited by over 250,000 people which is phenomenal success.
Abi Bunker explaining the importance of winter food provision to visitors during Open Farm Sunday at Hope Farm (copyright: Kathryn Smith)
Here at Hope Farm we ran our own Open Farm Sunday, the 2nd time we have done so recently. Last year we had 80 visitors, but this year this increased to a minimum of 350. We had guided farms tours, machinery display, bird ringing demonstration, nature treasure hunt, dragonfly hunt and livestock demonstration.
Visitors enjoying Katies' Pond during Open Farm Sunday at Hope Farm (copyright: Ellie Crane)
It was really fabulous seeing the farmyard and gardens to busy. There were people, and happy people, everywhere. While enjoying a burger from the barbeque or tea from our volunteer Mo, I got to chat to many of them. All of the comments were really positive and the comments on Twitter were also very positive. It certainly made all the work in setting the event up, and the time given by staff and volunteers, very worthwhile. Will we see you here at Open Farm Sunday in June 2016?
Today we had another group of visitors, but from a very different part of the world – Japan. Not only does Hope Farm help to demonstrate and influence wildlife friendly farming in the UK, it has done so across Europe and indeed the world. This is the 2nd visit I’ve had from Japan in the last 3 years. Today’s visitors were from the Ecosystem Conservation Society – Japan, and it was a delight to show them around. An interpreter helped with any language difficulties, but I suspect most spoke and understood English but were a little too shy. I think they went away with great ideas about how to work towards integrating management for wildlife into an intensively farmed landscape, both benefiting wildlife and the farm.
Ecosystem Conservation Society Japan visit to Hope Farm (copyright: RSPB)
I’ll be enjoying my Japanese chocolates tonight as I look back on the visits and events of the last couple of months, and think about those yet to come.
Much has been written about the growing disconnect between the increasingly urbanised population of the UK, where its food comes from and the wildlife in the countryside. For conservationists this is worrying. Wildlife may become less valued and the importance of protecting it may not be fully realised. Likewise the consequences of food production on wildlife may not be wholly appreciated.
The disconnect is worrying for farmers too. An increasing proportion of the population genuinely does not know where many items of food come from, or how they are grown. This may lead to the farming sector being underappreciated and undervalued as a crucial industry.
Image 1: The wheat harvest at Hope Farm in August 2012. Open Farm Sunday is a key opportunity to help the public re-connect with where their food comes from. (Andy Hay: rspb-images.com)
Open Farm Sunday on 7th June, which has been organized by LEAF since 2006, provides a great opportunity for farmers to open their gates and invite the public on to the farm, to see how crops are grown, how livestock are managed and how a farm is run.
Open Farm Sunday has developed into a major annual event with 207,000 people visiting 375 farms across the UK during the 2014 event. This varied from farms showing 10’s of people around, through to almost mini country shows attracting many thousands of visitors.
Here at Hope Farm in Knapwell, near Cambridge (CB23 4NR), we will also be taking part in Open farm Sunday. This is a fantastic chance to visit our farm, to see how we manage for wildlife alongside growing crops. There will be guided walks, bird ringing demonstration, small-scale sheep, pony and poultry demonstration, children’s activities including face painting, barbeque and generally a chance to see round a great wildlife friendly farm.
Image 2: Visitors to Hope Farm on Open Farm Sunday will be able to find out how the needs of farmland wildlife are combined with a profitable farm business (Andy Hay: rspb-images.com)
We will be open from 10:00 to 14:00, so please come along and visit us, or if you are too far away to do that consider visiting another farm on that weekend. Details of the other farms that are open on Open Farm Sunday can be found here, but do ask them what they are doing to protect and encourage wildlife on their farms!
By Ian Dillon (Hope Farm Manager)
For more updates on Hope Farm or other RSPB farming related stories please follow the blog or, on Twitter @AgriODowd