July, 2012

Farming

Farming
Welcome to this group for all farmers and anyone with an interest in farming. Read our blog to see how we're working with farmers and to find out where you can meet us at events.

Farming

Find out more about how we're working with farmers and others to provide space for farmland nature in the landscape. Join in the discussion on farming issues and share tips for wildlife-friendly farming.
  • Hope Farm: Twelve years of hard work, learning and great success

     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)

    What’s next? 

    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.

  • Giving wildlife a sporting chance

    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:

    • Glow worm: a true ‘torch bearer’. June and July are the best months to see these fascinating bioluminescent beetles. They enjoy sheep-grazed downland, as they prefer open habitat, away from light pollution. 
    • Brown hare: the Usain Bolt of farm wildlife, this sprinter can reach speeds of 77km/hr.  Hares have steadily declined over the last century, and there are now a wide range of options available within agri-environment schemes to help the brown hare. 
    • Kingfisher: a diving sensation, these glorious birds benefit from sympathetic water course management.   
    • Grasshopper: these long jumpers can leap 20 times their own body length – which is like one of us taking a football field in a single bound!
    • Otter: once widespread, these swimming champions underwent a catastrophic decline in the 1950’s-1970’s, but are now making a welcome comeback. 
    • European turtle dove: our only migratory dove, this diminutive bird faces more than a marathon twice a year.  Flying 3,000 miles between their breeding grounds and wintering grounds, these birds are in sharp decline.  Farmers in turtle dove hot spots are giving them a sporting chance by participating in Operation Turtle Dove.
    • Hat Thrower fungus: also known as "Dung Cannon", this discus throwing competitor gets its name from the habit of firing spore capsules away from the parent fungus. The spores adhere to vegetation, in order to be eaten by grazing animals, and after passing through the animal’s digestive systems it grows in their faeces. Despite growing just 2–4 cm tall, they can shoot their spores up to 2 m away! 
    • Hobby: an accomplished aerial gymnast this falcon can even catch dragon flies in its talons in mid-air!

    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

  • A sunny outlook

    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