Farmers, nature conservationists and local communities in The Fens, on the border between Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk, are celebrating the culmination of a pioneering three-year landscape partnership project that has brought 12 local wildlife-friendly farmers together to establish the new Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone.
The Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone comprises 12 Fenland farmers, whose combined land covers an impressive 4,000 hectares of the Fens - an area that would cover more than a third of the city of Cambridge - in a part of the country that is particularly rich in nature, and especially farmland birds.
Patrick Allpress of Allpress Farms, near Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, joined the Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone in 2015:
"It's important to have nature in mind when farming as everything we do can affect the balance of nature. As well as cultivating the fields we're responsible for looking after miles of ditches, many trees and hedges, field grass margins, conservation headlands, wild bird mixed covers and over-wintered stubbles, which all can create a habitat and have a positive impact on nature. The Fens is a special area with big large open spaces and we should be doing everything we can to encourage nature."
Farming is an important wildlife habitat and a wide variety of plants and animals have come to depend on it. However, in the last few decades, farmland wildlife in the UK has been struggling. This year's State of Nature 2016 report found that farmland birds such as turtle doves and tree sparrows have declined by over 90 per cent since the 1970s, and a quarter of arable plants are threatened with extinction in the UK.
Part of the solution to the challenges faced by farmland wildlife may lie in the spread and increasing uptake by farmers of nature-friendly farming practices.
As well as being committed to managing areas of their land specifically for wildlife, the Nature Friendly Zone farmers have helped the project engage with more than 2,000 local people in the Fens through a range of community outreach events, from wildlife workshops to farm walks and school visits, all with the aim of generating local support for wildlife-friendly farming.
RSPB Community Engagement Officer Gemma Wells has worked closely with the Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone farmers to raise awareness of wildlife-friendly farming and why it is needed:
"I'm really proud to have been involved in this project and played a part, however small, in helping generate more understanding in the Fens of what wildlife-friendly farming is and why it's needed.
"Three quarters of our land in the UK - even more in Cambridgeshire - is farmed. It goes without saying that farmland is an important home for wildlife, as well as being the source of the food we eat. Sadly, some of our fastest declining species, such as turtle doves and tree sparrows, make their homes in farmland.
"Farmers like Patrick Allpress and others in the Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone are on the front line, and by helping spread wildlife-friendly farming practices and techniques they are giving vulnerable farmland wildlife a lifeline."
The establishment of the Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone and the delivery of the project's community outreach work was made possible by the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme, of which this project is a part. Funded primarily by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the scheme focuses on the promotion of the area surrounding the Ouse Washes, the heart of the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens, and on encouraging community engagement with the area's diverse heritage.
To find out more about Nature Friendly Zones, visit www.rspb.org.uk/naturefriendlyzones
Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership launches wildlife-friendly farming films
As the three year project comes to a close, it is launching two short films about wildlife-friendly farming as part of the continuing campaign to build public awareness of and support for the efforts of nature friendly farmers like those in the Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone (NFZ).
One of the films is an animated introduction to wildlife-friendly farming, and the other features children from a local school during one of the project's school outreach sessions as well as the manager of the RSPB's Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire speaking about the work being done on the farm to test real world solutions to farmland wildlife decline.
Please help to spread the word about the importance of nature-friendly farming by sharing these videos on social media!
- A full copy of the State of Nature 2016 report can be viewed: www.rspb.org.uk/son
- The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme (OWLP) is a 3-year project largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The scheme focuses on the promotion of the area surrounding the Ouse Washes, the heart of the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens, and on encouraging community engagement with the area's diverse heritage. http://ousewashes.org.uk/
- The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations. www.rspb.org.uk
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