Don’t you find that the world always seems better when you’re out in the fresh air, enjoying the steady arrival of spring?
We outdoor types on the Eastern England farmland advisory team certainly think so.
Looking at various winged things with RSPB and Buglife farmland bods
Happily this week we had chance to visit one of our favourite farms, meet up with some colleagues from Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, and learn more about the ‘Small Things that Run the World’.
By that I thankfully don’t mean Little Mix, at least not yet.
I mean the myriad millions of creeping, crawling, fluttering critters that keep intricate webs of food, water and nutrients moving in our countryside and play such an essential role in its health.
Things like the Large Garden Bumblebee – a threatened bee to which the Fens area is very important. It nests underground in rodent burrows in open habitat, and forages at deep flowers, particularly red clover and water mint, found in many fen ditches. It has suffered mainly due lack of flowers, loss of nesting habitat and insecticide exposure.
But a good clover-rich nectar flower mix next to a rotationally managed ditch and a grass margin where field mice can burrow is easily achievable in an Environmental Stewardship agreement and ticks a lot of boxes for this bee, which forms part of an army of pollinating insects worth £440M annually to the UK economy.
Things like the Necklace Ground Beetle – a declining farmland beetle. It is flightless and lives in leaf litter on the soil surface. It has suffered because of increased autumn cultivations which kill the larvae and prey, as do insecticides, and from loss of refuges like hedgerows.
But a beetle bank or rotationally managed hedgerow near fields containing weedy overwintered stubbles left fallow all summer is easily achievable in an ELS agreement and can make all the difference to this beetle and hordes of others like it, which if able to flourish, spend their entire juvenile and adult lives munching through pests.
So have you spotted how well this fits into our recurring theme? If you’re doing the Farmland Bird Package through Environmental Stewardship, providing insect-rich habitat, winter seed food and nesting habitat – through things like flower mixes, stubbles and summer fallows - then you’ll also giving a boost to all our precious pollinators, pest-controllers and poo-recyclers too.
So it turns out us at the RSPB and our friends at Buglife have lots of Little Things in common.
Do you? Tell us about the Small Things helping to run your farm.....
Essex Frank, Fens Niki, V&FA Emily, EERO Alison, Gaffer Simon and the brilliant Richard and Vicky from Buglife.
That helping farmland wildlife is important......That level of consensus can’t happen too often. The results of a ‘Voluntary Initiative’ survey amongst farmers was recently published. It encouragingly found that 86% of farmers agree that environmental management and wildlife conservation are important parts of their farm management. It seems to have been the season for rural surveys, because another recently publicised survey, this time carried out by the ‘Campaign to protect Rural England’, found that 84% of the general public believe that farmers have a responsibility to look after the landscape and wildlife for future generations. Who says there is little connection between the general public and farming - they seem at least to be on the same wavelength on this topic. If the farmers that manage the countryside and the general public that finances farm support through their taxes agree that looking after the environment is a critical role of modern land managers, you might think it just a short, simple step to making this a reality........and that once struggling farmland wildlife would be well and truly on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, those who ultimately make the decisions on how farm support is spent seem to be less sure. For enough farmers to take the steps that would really make a difference for wildlife, 3 things are essential: first and foremost there needs to be sufficient financial support; secondly, this support needs to be embedded in effective schemes that pay farmers to do the right things; and finally, farmers need clear advice about how to deliver these measures and how much is expected of them. It's safe to say that we are not where we need to be with these yet. Currently, only around 3 to 4% of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget is spent on the part of CAP that is about making a real difference for the environment on farmland, namely agri-environmental schemes. We also know that this rather paltry spend is not always as effectively spent as it might be. A report by the European court of auditors into agri-environment schemes found that while there has been progress since the introduction of agri-environment schemes, there were many examples where it was unclear or difficult to measure how payments would benefit stated objectives. For example, the French have spent millions paying their farmers to reduce fertiliser rates on grassland .......to levels above what the farmers would be applying as a matter of course! With the negotiations for the new CAP budget building, let’s hope that some agreement can break out amongst the bureaucrats on the importance of the environment in farming, and we can see more money being spent more effectively on this issue into the future.
Recently I was fortunate enough to meet with Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff and his team along with my colleagues to discuss the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the current reform proposals and the need for a fairer CAP for wildlife, farmers and the EU tax payer.
We had a wide ranging discussion including the current situation in Cyprus regarding the continued, illegal and unnecessary slaughter of migrant bird species. Andrew was deeply concerned over the current situation and clearly wanted to do more and will be in further discussions with RSPB’s Birdlife partner; Birdlife Cyprus.
Andrew was also concerned over how CAP money was and could be spent but importantly we discussed how this money can be spent in good value for money agri-environment options and schemes ensuring the correct land management options at the right scale are selected as we have done at Hope Farm and a growing minority of farmers are doing so here and here and as one farmer Janet Herbert I work with stated; "I consider wildlife to be part of my farm business, and I try to cater for its needs just as I would a crop of wheat. Taxpayers are making a considerable contribution to my income, and I like to think they're getting value for money”
I’m hopeful that Andrew Duff will be a voice in Europe for nature friendly farmers everywhere, they and the wildlife need him and others.