From Kevin Rylands, Farmland Conservation Advisor (South West England)
The South West Farmland Bird Initiative (SWFBI) is an exciting partnership project that was set up to specifically help reverse the decline of farmland birds across Wessex. The Initiative targets nationally important farmland bird hotspots across Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset as defined by the distribution of six of the rarer, most declining farmland birds, often called the ‘Arable Six’: Corn bunting, grey partridge, lapwing, tree sparrow, turtle dove & yellow wagtail.
By focussing on these six species, SWFBI is targeting the best arable habitats in Wessex, and the measures put in place for these species also benefit other wildlife associated with arable farmland - in particular rare arable plants like shepherd’s needle and corn marigold; mammals such as brown hare and harvest mice, and the more widespread farmland birds like skylark, linnet, reed bunting and yellowhammer.
Brown Hare. Photo by Paul Dunn, Glamorgan Heritage Coast Project
Partnership approach Across Wessex, four sister projects work together under the umbrella of the Initiative. Each is led by a different partner organisation, with a dedicated project officer giving practical advice to farmers on how they can best use Environmental Stewardship to help farmland birds and the plants and animals associated with the arable landscape. All four posts work together with the farming community to deliver measures that specifically provide the key in-field habitats that farmland birds need in order to thrive – insect rich foraging habitats, in-field nesting habitats and over-winter food - the ‘big three’.
Partnership working has been the key to the project’s success and the Initiative has funding from and works closely with Natural England, RSPB, FWAG SW, NFU, CLA, GWCT, Cotswolds Conservation Board, North Wessex Downs, Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs and Dorset AONBs, Defra, Wessex Water, agents, agronomists and most importantly the farming community. The Initiative has also developed strong working links with the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.
On the farmThe amount of habitat delivered by SWFBI speaks for itself - working with farmers and landowners the four projects have delivered over 9,000ha of key in-field farm wildlife habitat across Wessex. Since starting in October 2008, the Initiative has worked with over 350 farmers, across 140,000 ha of farmland and has advised on over 200 HLS agreements. In addition nearly 2000 people have attended SWFBI events, all keen to learn how to integrate farmland bird conservation alongside commercial farming.
The latest SWFBI newsletter can be found here and in addition to all this there was also an album... Aptly named 'Best Farmland Bird Album in the World Ever (Vol 1)!
The CD features the calls from many species of birds found on farmland, from the rare to the very common. If you would like a free copy please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Did you see the Daily Telegraph this morning? They reported some stark figures from the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI; a charity that provides support for farmers in need throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland).
RABI have shown that many farmers are facing severe poverty. They have paid out twice as much in emergency grants as they did last year. A quarter of farmers are living below the poverty line and a third survive on less than £10,000 a year.
I considered myself pretty well aware of the tough circumstances that many farmers face, but the scale of these figures still shocked me.
Our farmers are custodians of our countryside. Our whole society needs farmers to take care of the countryside, for today and future generations. But this takes time, effort, and money. The news from RABI underlines more than ever why farmers should be properly compensated for the environmental work they do for us all.
But the funding for environmental work is under threat. Getting the funding right for environmental work won’t fix the wider problems in the industry. That needs to be tackled too.
But don’t let our countryside get lost in the mean time. Show your support for farmers to get a fair deal for giving wildlife a future – email your MEP today. It won't cost you a penny.
Find out more at www.rspb.org.uk/capreform
PS And don’t forget to buy UK produce when you can
Image courtesy of FreeFoto.com
By Tracé Williams, Great Bustard LIFE Manager
As I talk to this years Nature of Farming Award winner, Henry Edmunds, it becomes clear he is a true guardian of wildlife. Henry’s farm, the Cholderton Estate in Wiltshire, has been managed by his family since 1880, with Henry taking the reins in 1975. Wildlife flourishes on the estate due to the sustainability of the farming methods used, many of which stem from the 1880’s. As the estate is a mixed farm a number of leguminous crops are grown alongside keeping beef cattle, dairy cows, Hampshire Down sheep and the largest group of Cleveland Bay heavy horses in the country.
The whole farm is planned to benefit wildlife as well as being commercial. The estate is organic, so a rotation system is used involving cereal crops, grass and leguminous leys which attract insects such as butterflies and bees.
There is no spraying or formal weed control, crops are grown on animal manure generated by the farms own live stock and the crops that are grown are fed back to the livestock, making it hugely sustainable.
The field margins, thick hedgerows and the organic cereal crops allow wildlife to move around very easily and Henry takes great pleasure in seeing Marble whites, Meadow brown and Gatekeeper butterflies flitting freely about the farmland. Due to the abundance of insects the farm also provides a home for a huge number of nesting birds such as Bullfinches, and migrant warblers including Black caps, Whitethroats, and Lesser whitethroats- which Henry describes as ‘a joy to see and hear’.
Lapwings are also thriving by making use of the fallow ground, this year six pairs fledged between sixteen to eighteen chicks, the high success rate is due in no small part to the electric fences which Henry has erected around the area used by the birds to protect them from predation.
Chalk grassland is an important habitat in Wiltshire and with help from the RSPB Henry has identified fields that are suitable to be reverted back to their former glory. Through a combination of re-seeding and allowing the land to regenerate naturally the chalk downland is being restored. Corn buntings and Lapwings as well as moths and butterflies are all benefitting from the vibrantly coloured landscape. Some of these areas have been designated ‘Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation’ by Hampshire County Council.
Henry is proud of his farm and he says winning this competition is an honour and will hopefully make more people aware of the benefits of organic and wildlife friendly farming. He intends to continue to manage his estate with wildlife in mind and finishes our conversation by saying:
‘Agriculture needs to be more sustainable, to do without wildlife is not an option – we have a responsibility to maintain wildlife’
To hear more from Henry, listen to this month's podcast at www.rspb.org.uk/podcasts