Fenland farmers unite for nature

Rupert Masefield

Friday 25 May 2018

Weedy stubble left as food source for farmland birds

Ely farmers seek to promote nature-friendly farming in the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens.

Farmers from one the UK’s most productive arable farming landscapes, the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens, have formed the Ely Nature-Friendly Farming Zone – a group of neighbouring farmers committed to adopting and promoting nature friendly farming practices.

United in the shared conviction that farming can and should be environmentally sustainable as well as productive and profitable, members of the new nature friendly farming group aim to increase the impact of their individual wildlife friendly farming operations by pooling their collective knowledge and expertise, helping to restore lost farmland wildlife across a wider area of the Fens.

The group also hopes to engage with local people and the broader farming community at events like Linking Environment And Farming’s (LEAF) Open Farm Sunday in June, to raise awareness of the relationship between farming and nature, and the benefits of adopting practices that help wildlife at the same time as growing food. 

Ely Nature-Friendly Farming Zone member Tom Clarke took over his family’s farm business in 2009:

“Many farmers are already doing a lot for the environment, but to really make a difference across a landscape as dominated by farming as the Fens is, we need to work together. It is fairly straightforward to make a big difference by each of us making small changes, and by promoting and spreading our approach.

“The typical stereotype of the fens and farming in the fens is of flat, 'boring' fields intensively farmed with no room for nature. It is up to us to show them otherwise and demonstrate that farming can go hand in hand with conserving nature.”

The abundance of farmland wildlife has fallen drastically in the last 50 years. Specialist farmland birds such as grey partridge, corn bunting and turtle dove have declined by more than 90% in that time.

Creating and managing the right kind of habitat on farmland though has been shown to be effective at reversing this trend on demonstration farms, including the RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire.

RSPB Farmland Conservation Advisor for the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens, Andrew Holland said: 

“Historically, farming practices introduced since the 1970s – largely driven by ill-conceived policy – have been a major cause of wildlife decline and biodiversity loss. We now know that this is far from inevitable, and farmers like those in the Ely Nature Friendly Farming Zone are championing the kind of sustainable farming that is needed to restore the wildlife we’ve already lost. With the help of well-designed and implemented policies to promote nature friendly farming, other farmers too will start doing more for nature on their farms.

“It’s fantastic that a group of farmers in what is one of the most productive and profitable agricultural landscapes in the country is committed to farming sustainably, with nature in mind. If space can be made to include nature in farmland in the Fens, it can – and should – be done everywhere.”

The RSPB has supported the farmers in the Ely Nature-Friendly Farming Zone in the formation of the group, as well as advising on the creation and management of wildlife habitat and helping farmers enter into ‘agri-environment agreements’, such as the current Countryside Stewardship scheme. This scheme and others like it support nature friendly farming by paying farmers ‘agri-environment subsidies’ for adopting measures to help wildlife and the environment on their land.

Farmers interested in finding out more about the Ely Nature Friendly Farming Zone, or anyone interested in visiting one of the farms, should contact Andrew Holland at the RSPB on 07540 692905 or Andrew.holland@rspb.og.uk 


Meet the Ely nature-friendly farmers at G’s Open Farm Sunday

Barway Farm, Ely – Sunday 10 June

Ely Nature-Friendly Farming Zone will be at G’s Open Farm Sunday at Barway Farm in Ely on 10 June to meet and speak to visitors about what they are doing to promote nature-friendly farming in the Fens and beyond.

Find out more about LEAF Open Farm Sunday and plan a visit to an open farm near you: farmsunday.org 

Follow the Ely Nature-Friendly Farming Zone on Facebook: @ElyNFFarming

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018


Coast on a stormy day

Andrew Holland

Fens Farmland Conservation Advisor

07540 692905
Tagged with: Country: England Topic: Conservation Topic: Farming