Some of you may be familiar with the title – it is a phrase used by our Eastern England region. And it’s a perfect description for this year’s Eastern England winner of the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award.
Jason Gathorne-Hardy has taken an ingenious approach to flower rich grassland management, which is designed to encourage ant-hills. Along with standing dead oak wood, nectar and seed rich habitats, wide hedgerow margins, and diverse woodland, Jason has provided food and habitat for wildlife right up through the food chain.
Scarce lesser spotted woodpeckers thrive, linnets have retuned to the farm, and turtle dove, yellowhammer and bullfinch numbers have rocketed in just five years. Grassland and woodland have been designed to encourage butterflies and moths, and hay meadows have been restored focusing on old / native varieties. Lakes and dykes teem with dragon flies and damselflies, fungi abound, there is now an otter holt on the farm, several badger setts, and fallow and red deer grace the landscape.
Jason runs a diverse business on his 110ha farm. Producing their own branded high quality Alde Valley Lamb, as well arable and timber worked on site, biodiversity, landscape and sustainability are at the heart of the business. He continuously develops new ways to reconnect people with landscape, nature and food, and welcomes over 4,000 visitors to his farm every year. His network of nature trails take in river banks, meadows and woodland coppice, and the farm hosts school visits as well as food and art festivals.
Jason’s farm is a shining example of how a farm can work in today’s challenging environment. One of the stockmen that has worked on the farm for 53 years recalls how farmland birds in particular disappeared over the second half of the last century, and is amazed by how quickly Jason’s ideas have brought farmland bird populations back on the farm.
The judges felt two other farms in Eastern England deserved special recognition this year, and have been awarded Highly Commended.
John Hewitt demonstrates a faultless execution of wildlife friendly crop production on his 237ha arable farm. Species such as night-flowering catchfly, yellow rattle, turtle dove, lapwing, and tree sparrow thrive, and his diverse grassland buzzes with insects. John can now enjoy turtle doves purring in the scrub and pond he restored, watch lapwing chicks grow, and see field margins bursting with wildflowers.
The bird list stands at 160 for Toby Bulgin’s exceptional livestock farm, showing wet grassland management and organic meat production at its best. Crane, lapwing, avocet, redshank and snipe flock to his specially created shingle islands, while new and restored ponds and ditches are festooned with purple loosestrife. The farm attracts otters, grass snakes, brown hawkers, and black-tailed skimmers. Toby was thrilled to open his farm to the public this year, helping reconnect people with farming and wildlife.
If you want to show your support for farmers like Jason, John and Toby, don’t forget to vote for the overall UK winner of this year’s Nature of Farming Award – voting opens Friday 20 July at www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote
The EU LIFE+ Programme funds RSPB work which supports wildlife-friendly farming that furthers sustainable development in the European Union.
Much as I'm partial to a nice drop of wine, this time I'm talking about a butterfly.
The Duke of Burgundy is a pretty little fritillary that lives on grassland or woodland clearings, mostly in central-southern England. It's range has substantially declined in recent decades, but in 2008 it returned to the Norfolk Estate, a 1240ha mixed farm in West Sussex.
Thanks to the careful stewardship of Peter Knight, South East England winner of the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award 2012, the Estate has achieved great increases in birds, insects, plants and mammals. The Estate teems with wildlife. Since 2003 the population of grey partridge has increased from just three pairs to 360 pairs, beating the previous best set way back in 1959. The broadleaved arable plant community is now very similar to that of the 1930’s, long before herbicides were used. Short tailed field voles and harvest mice have flourished, as have brown hares which reached a population of 520 this year.
Peter has been managing the Norfolk Estate for 24 years, and has supervised the change from focussing only on production to a business with conservation at its heart – without adversely affecting production. Peter has an ethos of ‘more output, less impact’. He has worked hard to tailor the management of his farm to achieve the best for both the business and wildlife. He is keen to share his experience and successes, and the Estate frequently hosts visits from a wide range of interested groups. The judges who visited his farm were impressed with all that Peter has achieved for wildlife – but also they were impressed by his evident passion for conservation.
The judges found a high standard of entries all across South East England, and awarded five farms with Highly Commended this year:
These wildlife-friendly farming ambassadors all show that conservation and food production can work together. Many thanks to them all.
If you want to show your support for farmers like these, don’t forget to vote for the overall UK winner of this year’s Nature of Farming Award – voting opens Friday 20 July at www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote
Duke of Burgandy courtesy of Mark V Pike/ Plantlife
This is an integrated package to protect wildlife, soils and water on an arable farm through agri-environment schemes or voluntary land management. It is being developed with a wide range of agricultural and environmental organisations to simplify environmental messages for farmers. We would value any thoughts you have on the practicality of this package and what you would need to help you implement it. Please click http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VHKH6Z9 to complete a feedback questionnaire. This should only take a few minutes, and would be very valuable in helping us to make this as useful for farmers as possible.
The following advice will maximise the environmental benefits of agri-environment applications and voluntary environmental land management. It will complement best practice soil, crop, fertiliser and pesticide management to ensure full environmental protection on an arable farm. The general principles given here should be considered in conjunction with local priorities for soil and water protection and wildlife conservation. If you need further advice then consult a competent environmental adviser.
Choosing the right measures, putting them in the right place, and managing them in the right way will make all the difference. Full environmental protection could be achieved by management of as little as 4% of the arable area if high quality habitats are maintained or created. However, the precise area required will depend on factors such as the area of vulnerable soils and length of watercourses.
Adopting the following measures that are appropriate to your arable land should help to ensure the reduction in greenhouse emissions, and conservation of soil, water and wildlife. It is important to have a balance of environmental measures that contribute to each of the relevant points below to achieve the full environmental benefits.
1. Look after established wildlife habitats
Start by assessing what you already have on the farm! Looking after any existing wildlife habitats, such as woodland, ponds, flower-rich grassland or field margins, is critical to the survival of much of the wildlife on the farm, and may count towards some of the following measures without the need to create new habitats. Unproductive land can be used to create new habitats to complement what you already have.
2. Maximise the environmental value of field boundaries.
Hedgerow management and ditch management on a 2-3 year rotation boosts flowers, fruit and refuges for wildlife. This is most suited to hedges dominated by hawthorn and blackthorn, and ditches where rotational management will not compromise the drainage function. Establish new hedgerow trees to maintain numbers within the landscape.
3. Create a network of grass margins
The highest priority is to buffer watercourses, ideally with a minimum of 5m buffer strips. Grass margins can also be used to boost beneficial insects and small mammals, and buffer hedges, ponds and other environmental features. Beetle banks can be used to reduce soil erosion and run-off on slopes greater than 1:20 and boost beneficial insects in fields greater than 20 ha.
4. Establish flower rich habitats
Evidence suggests that a network of flower-rich margins on 1% of arable land will support beneficial insects and a wealth of wildlife that feeds on insects. Assess whether this is best done by allowing arable plants in the seedbank to germinate, establishing perennial margins with a grass and wildflower mix, or using nectar flower mixtures. Improving the linkages between these features on the farm will also help wildlife move in the landscape.
5. Provide winter food for birds with weedy over-wintered stubbles or wild bird cover
Provision of seed for wildlife is best achieved by leaving over-wintered stubbles unsprayed and uncultivated until mid-February on at least 5% of arable land, or growing seed-rich crops as wild bird cover on 2% of arable land.
6. Use in-field measures to help ground-nesting birds
Use rotational fallows, skylark plots in winter cereals or (if breeding lapwings occur) fallow plots to support ground-nesting birds where spring cropping forms less than 25% of the arable area. Fallow plots should not be created on land liable to runoff or erosion. Evidence suggests that at least 20 skylark plots or a 1ha fallow plot per 100 ha would support ground-nesting birds.
7. Use winter cover crops to protect water.
Land cultivated and left fallow through the winter prior to spring cropping should have a winter cover crop (e.g. mustard) to capture residual nitrogen for the following crop. This is not necessary if the stubble is retained until at least mid-February and forms a green cover.
8. Establish in-field grass areas to reduce soil erosion and run-off
Convert land liable to act as channels for soil erosion or run-off (e.g. steep slopes or field corners) into in-field grass areas.
Did you hear the Today programme this morning? There was an excellent item on the latest cuts in dairy prices (if you missed it, it should be available for the next 7 days on iPlayer here).
The facts are stark - 40% of small UK dairy farmers have gone out of business in just 10 years. The latest cuts will, sadly, no doubt mean that others will follow. Getting paid less than the cost of production is simply untenable. That's a personal tragedy for the farmers involved, puts further strain on the rural economy, and what happens to the land? In some cases it will get sold off for development - which is bad news for the wildlife that relies on farmland too.
The good news is that the crisis in the UK dairy industry is being covered on mainstream news programmes. So it gets the message out to a wider audience. Probably just as many people were pouring their nice cold ice cold milk onto their breakfast cereal.
And even better news? The article told listeners what they can do about it. We heard that Sainsbury's, M&S, Waitrose and Tesco all pay their dairy farmers a price that reflects the cost of milk production. Of course these four make a big part of the market, but we were told there are still three major suppliers that don't - Asda, Morrison's and Co-Op.
So if you want to help wildlife, buy your milk from somewhere that gives dairy farmers a proper living. It's the right moo-ve to make.
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
by Stuart Croft - Cirl Bunting Reintroduction Field Officer
Go back a couple of generations and the plight of one particular species was not a good one. The cirl bunting – a sparrow-sized bird, closely related to the yellowhammer - gets its name from an Italian translation meaning plump and chirpy. Deprived of its favoured requirements within its preferred traditional, lowland farmland habitat (over-wintered stubbles, insect-rich grasslands and thick hedgerows), it was a bird heading towards extinction in the UK.
Male cirl bunting in Cornwall by Nigel Climpson.
Thankfully, help came in the nick of time and thanks to the efforts of the RSPB and farmers in its remaining out-post of Devon the population began to rise from the early 1990s, as an increasing area of land became managed under Countryside Stewardship. However, though numbers had increased dramatically, its range had not. A project to reintroduce the cirl was required if this bird was to become familiar in parts of its former range and so the Cirl Bunting Reintroduction Project was begun on the Roseland Peninsula in south Cornwall in 2006.
The population has now increased to reach in excess of its target level of 40 pairs. A lot of this success is due to the provision of the key winter foraging areas - typically spring-sown barley stubbles where the cirls seek out natural weed seeds, as well as patches of bird seed mix. Both these habitats are provided by the local farming community, which is so important for not just helping the cirl bunting, but other farmland wildlife too. A growing number have adopted agri-environmental schemes in the form of ELS and HLS. On one such farm where HLS prescriptions for cirl buntings are in place, cirls have returned to breed this year after they last did so back in the 1990s.
Female cirl bunting in Cornwall by Nigel Climpson.
Though the weather so far has not been favourable, cirls are not put off by early failure and can persist breeding well in to August. So, if the sun does shine this summer, then there will hopefully, be a few more cirls out there to carry the population forward and ensure the establishment of a Cornish cirl bunting population once again.