2012 is a truly auspicious year in Britain, with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and a certain sporting event that cannot be named for legal reasons. But it is also an auspicious year in the sleepy Cambridgeshire hamlet of Knapwell, home to Hope Farm, the RSPB’s 180 hectare arable farm.
Changing farming practices and polarisation of cropping regimes has been great for us all as consumers. Rarely are supermarket shelves empty, prices are affordable for most and the variety of choice is staggering.
But the cost has been high for wildlife. There are one million fewer skylarks in England now, compared to the early 1970s. For every 100 grey partridges in 1970 there are now fewer than 10.
We would not want to turn the clock back, UK farmers are competing in a world market. But we firmly believe that it isn’t a choice between modern farming or wildlife, it can be both. It should be both.
In 2000, we put our money where our mouth is, and bought Hope Farm. We took it on as a going concern, and we set ourselves the challenge of maintaining profitability, increasing wheat yields and increasing key farmland bird numbers. We teamed up with local contractors, who carried out the cropping operations and husbandry and most of the conservation habitat management for us.
By 2011, key bird numbers had increased by over 200% on average, a truly amazing result. But it is even more amazing when you consider wheat yields had increased from 8 tonnes/hectare in 2000 to 11.5 tonnes/hectare in 2009, and profitability had been maintained throughout.
Poul Christensen, Chair of Natural England said during a recent visit “Hope Farm shows what can be done with support from Entry Level Stewardship. Farmland birds are returning and the local environment is in great shape - water courses are full of life and the field margins are buzzing.”
The needs of agricultural production and environmental challenges remain inextricably linked, but Hope Farm – and other wildlife-friendly farms across the country – are living proof it’s possible to boost one while addressing the other.
We are celebrating these achievements in a new publication ‘Hope Farm: Farming for food, profit and wildlife’, which you can download here (PDF, 1.6Mb)
We are setting ourselves new challenges of monitoring diffuse pollution and reducing our carbon footprint. We’ll be learning along the way – watch this space to find out how we get on.
As a certain major sports event opened on Friday, with a spectacular ceremony featuring a pastoral idyll that helped shape our green and pleasant land, my thoughts turned to some of the amazing farm wildlife that share our landscape. A great case could be made for many contenders, but here is my winners list:
Also a hearty round of applause to Farm Team GB (by which I mean all those fabulous wildlife friendly farmers out there), who give this winning list of wildlife a sporting chance of survival. You can give them all a metaphorical medal by voting in this year’s RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award – and you might just win a luxury break for two people.
Kingfisher: John Bridges (rspb-images.com) Brown hare: Paul Dunn - Glamorgan Heritage Coast Project
Just in time for the summer weather - solar panels were installed at Hope Farm this week. This is part of a programme across many of the RSPB's offices and reserves (and our one commercial farm!) to help combat climate change. Read more about it here.
In action at Hope Farm this week