"Only by understanding the environment and how it works can we make the necessary decisions to protect it." With these important words Kofi Annan, launched on March 30th, 2005 The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Synthesis Report (UNEP 2005). Or to put it another way, scientific knowledge about functioning ecosystems is a requirement for developing new policies.
Unambiguously, the report showed to the world that during the past 50 years humans have changed ecosystems invariably negatively in a way unprecedented in any other period of human history.
This past weekend I went to a farm walk in St Osyth, in Essex. The farm and its farm-system had undergone a considerable amount of changes and is still functioning under its current basic structure. The farm used to run a beef suckler herd hence its name Bryher Beef Farm but now is entirely arable, save for some ewes and lambs in a small area of remaining grass.
You could look at this as an evolutionary diversification of their business that has led to a very polarised land use.
...but if you look closer...
This farm joined both ELS and HLS following RSPB advice and the help of an RSPB chap taking care of all that important, but at times confusing, scheme paperwork and planning. Wildlife around their farm is seen as very much part of their farming system, making their business more resilient and enabling the spread of financial risk.
The predisposition of an agro-ecosystem to retain its structure and productivity after being exposed to stress, will depend on:
Biological activity of the soil.
Current knowledge suggests that climate change will affect both biotic (pest, pathogens) and abiotic (solar radiation, water, temperature) factors in crop systems, threatening crop sustainability and production. In agricultural systems, crop biodiversity may provide the link between stress and resilience because a diversity of organisms is required for ecosystems to function and provide services.
Resilience is a core principle of sustainability; a resilient agro-ecosystem will continue to provide a vital service such as food production if challenged by severe drought or by a large reduction in rainfall.
Biological diversification in farms can easily be achieved with the help of environmental stewardship schemes and sustainable management. At the landscape scale, diversification may be achieved by integrating multiple production systems; enhancement of the areas between and around fields, agroforestry (trees, scrubs, hedges and ditches management), fallows and overwinter stubbles or wild bird seed mix crops will create a highly diverse agricultural land, ensuing the optimisation of nutrient cycling and restitution of organic matter, water and soil conservation and balanced populations of pests and their natural enemies. Biological diversification can be created temporally as well as spatially, adding even greater functional diversity and resilience to systems with sensitivity to temporal fluctuations in climate.
A sustainable system able to provide food, clean water, healthy soils , enhanced wildlife populations and all round super-great countryside need to be addressed in CAP reform to ensure we build a resilient system for the future.
Have you entered the 2012 RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award yet? If not, visit our website to download an entry form* today. Entry closes on 20 April, and we don't want anyone to miss out on their chance to get the recognition they deserve for all their hard work and dedication taking care of the countryside to the long term benefit of us all. You could win £1,000!
We know there can (by definition) only be one 'number one', so last year we introduced a Highly Commended category. We now get to publically recognise all those who are going the extra mile for wildlife - something we love to do!
The Nature of Farming Award is the UK's biggest farm wildlife competition, and is a great way to spread the word about the vital work that so many farmers are doing for nature. Each year we ask the public to show support for UK wildlife-friendly farmers by voting for the overall winner. Last year the Award was featured in the national and farming press, national radio, TV, and was tweeted and blogged about by celebrities such as wildlife film maker and presenter, Gordon Buchanan. It gives great farmers a great profile in the mainstream media.
Watch our video to hear more about the award from last year's winners. 2011 was the biggest year so far - help us make 2012 even better by entering today.
* If forms aren't your thing, contact your local Farm Advisor for help. They can help you with more than your entry form - they are experts in making applications for and amendments to agri-environment scheme agreements too.
What do you get if you put a farmer, an MEP and the RSPB in the same room to talk about Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform? Sadly there’s no punch line (and the answer is definitely not ‘punches’!) - instead you’re likely to get a passionate discussion about the importance of agri-environment schemes and the urgent need for the CAP to target support at High Nature Value farming systems.
Across 19-20 March, the RSPB (as part of BirdLife International) supported 8 farmers from across the EU to visit their MEPs on the Agriculture Committee so that they could tell their story about the role agri-environment schemes play on their farms. Representing diverse farming systems from the UK, Latvia, Portugal and Ireland, each of the farmers explained that the schemes allow them to ‘step up for nature’ alongside the production of agricultural commodities. And while each of the farmers was exceptionally proud of the wildlife their farms support, they were also honest that without CAP funding, they would not be able to manage their land in this way.
Gethin Owen*, one of the participating farmers who farms in Abergele, North Wales said, “As a farmer I have a duty to care for the countryside, and that means making sure that wildlife can thrive. The measures I have put in place on my land have made a real difference and this winter my land has been teeming with birds as a result. But modern farming is a business like any other and in order to continue providing these measures, we farmers must be supported”.
The RSPB and BirdLife were also keen to highlight to MEPs the critical need to channel support to High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems which, by the nature of their production methods, produce not just food but exceptional environmental benefits such as wildlife, clean water supplies and healthy soils full of carbon. Sadly, these systems are often economically marginalised and farmers face a stark choice between intensifying production or abandoning farming altogether, both of which would lead to environmental losses that are almost impossible to replace. These HNV systems urgently need the CAP to provide another option – one that will allow them to continue farming and producing the environmental benefits that society wants and needs.
As the European Parliament will play a significant role in determining both the design of the next CAP and its funding, this visit was a great opportunity to demonstrate that on some key issues, nature conservation organisations and farmers don’t just sit at the same table – they join forces! The farmers who came to Brussels welcomed the opportunity to explain to MEPs the value of their agri-environment schemes, not just for the environment, but for their farming businesses and wider society. They urged the 13 MEPs they met not just to protect the level of funding for agri-environment, but to increase it as part of the CAP reform process. The farmers also invited their MEPs to visit their farms back home so that they can see these amazing schemes in action.
‘Greening’ of the CAP is clearly a hot topic and was also discussed during the meetings. The RSPB emphasised that whilst improving the environmental performance of Pillar I payments is very much needed, ‘greening’ cannot replace what proven and targeted agri-environment measures can deliver.
The RSPB is hopeful that these powerful messages from farmers will ensure that the Parliament’s negotiating position on CAP, which is currently being developed, provides adequate funding and focus for invaluable agri-environment schemes and gives much needed attention to vulnerable HNV systems. As the wider EU Budget process (which will determine how much cash the CAP gets from 2014-2020) moves forward, all eyes will once again be on the amount of money this Policy costs taxpayers. In order to protect the best bits of the CAP, we will need every voice we can get to call for “More Money for Pillar II!!
* The other UK farmers taking part were James Bucher and Dan Skinner, both from Norfolk and Rory McKibbin from Northern Ireland.
Come on an RSPB training course!
Whether you're an arable farmer who wants to get the best from your agri-environment scheme, or an advisor looking to help clients to integrate conservation into their land management, we can offer you expert training at various locations around the country. Courses include a mix of theory and demonstration to show you the theory into practice, and are delivered by our expert team of agricultural advisors with the help of the host farmers.
This year, the farming courses on offer include:
Best use of Environmental Stewardship on an arable farm22 May and 27 June - RSPB Hope Farm, CambridgeshireFind out how to maximise farm wildlife conservation on farmland through Environmental Stewardship and the Campaign for the Farmed Environment: how to determine which species to focus on, putting together the right package of measures and how to manage them to get the best results for the farmer and wildlife.
Livestock farming – how commercial livestock systems can integrate the needs of farmland wildlife
20 September Great Wollaston Farm, Shropshire27 September Rectory Farm, Buckinghamshire
Courses will be held on a dairy farm in Shropshire and a beef and sheep farm in Buckinghamshire that have integrated management to benefit a range of wildlife over many years. Find out about the latest research, how to decide what wildlife to focus on and make the best use of agri-environment schemes. This course offers a mix of indoor presentations, exercises and on-site demonstrations of effective farm management practices that help wildlife.
Interested? See the full programme and find details of how to book here. If you haven't found what you're looking for, we can also offer bespoke courses designed to your own requirements so get in touch to have a chat about what you'd like us to provide.
Well now you can! Visit Defra’s new Green Food Project discussion forum and let them know what you think on topics including waste, diet, the role of new technology and how we should manage our land to produce a healthy environment as well as food.
In the Natural Environment White Paper, the Government promised to get together with stakeholders to discuss how to “reconcile how we will achieve our goals of improving the environment and increasing food production.” The Green Food Project is the result of this. The RSPB is participating in the project along with a range of other organisations with an interest in food, farming and the environment.
We set out what we think needs to happen in our paper to the 2012 Oxford Farming Conference. Farmers should be rewarded for producing a range of ecosystem services from their land – carbon storage, clean water and wildlife as well as food – to name but a few. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for the future: different farming systems deliver different benefits and are suited to different situations. Our choices on how we manage our land must be based on good evidence. We can’t tackle hunger in other parts of the world by producing more food here in England – to start with the hungry of the world wouldn’t be able to afford it! Ending hunger requires sweeping changes including improving the way food is distributed, investing in sustainable agriculture in developing countries, cutting waste at all levels of the food chain, and improving environmentally damaging farming practices. These are the messages we’re aiming to get across in our involvement with the Green Food Project.
Do you agree with the RSPB’s assessment? Is it important to you that England’s farmland supports flourishing wildlife as well as food production? Do you have any bright ideas on how to tackle the challenges facing farming and the environment? Get onto the forum before 3rd April and have your say.