As an event on all things beef production, we thought this would be a good place to be talking about some of the relationships between cattle and wildlife. There are many birds that have evolved age-old relationships with grazing livestock, and particularly benefit from cattle grazing: birds such as the curlew, yellow wagtail, skylark and snipe to name but a few.
A great example of what can be achieved when grazing is balanced with the requirements of wildlife can be found at the Ouse washes in Cambridgeshire. Over 2500 head of cattle from several farmers graze this RSPB reserve through the summer months, creating a home for some special wildlife. I think there is great potential for the livestock products coming off such places to also be regarded as a bit special. This is exactly what Jon Reeves who manages Riverside beef (and who helped on our stand) is trying to do: telling the great story about the cattle at Ouse washes and similar sites in the region to add value to their product.
Many farmers came on to the stand and spoke enthusiastically about the work they were doing for wildlife with the help of stewardship schemes. A farmer from Derbyshire told us about how lapwings were using his fallow plots, but was concerned at some being drawn to nest in the nearby, but less safe, spring cultivations for maize. What could he do with his maize to help? he asked. An ex-NFU chairman of Hampshire talked about the wildlife that their native cattle (Red Ruby Devons and Belted Galloways) and commercial crosses had encouraged. And two young lads from Norfolk told us about how their three thousand plus suckler cows managed many wet grasslands in Norfolk – they weren’t so sure about what birds they were seeing, but there were “all sorts”. I gave them some of our ‘Tractor Cab guide to farmland birds’ so they could hopefully get to know how special some of these grazing lands are.
The RSPB always evokes opinion with farmers. We had one quite cross individual who felt our press coverage of farming was too negative and that he was being blamed for losses in wildlife that had largely occurred 40 years ago – when he was 2. He had a point. But no one is suggesting that we turn back the clock. Communication is always going to be a difficult balance to strike. The RSPB has a responsibility to speak up for wildlife that is in trouble, but also to try and find solutions. Finding solutions necessitates looking forward, and working in partnership with farmers to develop practical ideas within today’s systems. These events remind me that there are still plenty of farmers who want to better understand how their management interacts with the wildlife that share their farm, and are prepared to do what they can to help.
I’m excited at being the first person to contribute to this brand new blog. I hope you enjoy reading it, and want to come back for more. You’ll be hearing from many of us here in the RSPB agricultural team in the future, including our farm advisors with practical advice, our policy team who are fighting for a fairer deal for wildlife-friendly farmers, and the manager of Hope Farm, our commercial arable farm where we have increased both biodiversity and profits since we bought the farm a decade ago.
The aim of this blog is to communicate the work of our advisors and agricultural policy team and – really importantly – give you the opportunity to give us your thoughts on our work and messages too. I want this blog to be an extension to the face to face conversations that we have with farmers every day.
We know that farmers and landowners are critical to the health of our countryside. As guardians of our countryside you are such an important part of the solution. We need you. Nature needs you. This is what the new RSPB Campaign ‘Stepping Up for Nature’ is all about. We know that many of you are already doing wonderful things to help nature, and we celebrate this in our annual Nature of Farming Award, the UK’s largest farm wildlife award. (Entry has closed for this year, but you can enter for 2012 any time!)
Join the conversation But we can all do more, or do some things better. That includes us learning from you. So please join in the conversation. Tell us how you think we could best support wildlife-friendly farmers, and use this blog to talk to each other too. Share your ideas and experiences, ask us any questions you have and help us to help you so we can all work towards helping nature.