By Deborah Deveney, HNV Campaign Leader
The concept of ‘High Nature Value’ (HNV) farming has been around for some time, but poor understanding of the terminology has meant little use of the phrase.
In a UK context, HNV farming is mainly associated with extensive beef cattle and sheep farming in the uplands, with a high reliance on semi-natural vegetation/ unimproved pastures for grazing. Examples from the lowlands include low input farming systems with a mosaic of semi natural features such as saltmarsh, species rich grasslands, orchards, woods, hedges, stone walls, all of which support farmland wildlife.
With the EU Budget and CAP under review, there maybe opportunities available to these farmers through appropriate support mechanisms, ensuring they remain on the land and receive a fair price for the products they provide to society.
We realise that many of these farmers won’t identify themselves as HNV farmers or as multi land use managers, but this is just what they are. Producing high quality food is just one of their roles, in fact these farming practices are actually providing wider public benefits such as water quality, carbon storage, areas for recreation, protecting cultural heritage, as well as supporting threatened wildlife in a fragile farmed environment.
Market forces and social pressures are increasingly making HNV farming systems economically unviable, leaving farmers with a stark choice between intensifying or ceasing to farm altogether. Although agri-environment schemes are essential to the maintenance of HNV farming, in isolation they are often insufficient to secure their future due to income forgone/cost incurred restrictions.
We are keen to gain a better understanding of the issues HNV farmers face, and looking to work with farmers and stakeholders so we can develop a strong, local and passionate voice for HNV farming to persuade policymakers that these systems must receive a better package of support to reflect their exceptional value to society.
So if are you a HNV farmer please get in touch, as we would love to hear your story.
Please contact Deborah Deveney (HNV Campaign Leader) on Deborah.Deveney@RSPB.org.uk or on 01392 432691/ 07702 779351
The debate over neonicotinoids continues, with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently publishing a scientific opinion on the risks posed by three of the main neonicotinoids on the market.
For anyone not familiar with the subject: neonicotinoids are a group of pesticides widely used in agriculture. They have low toxicity to people and, because it was thought that only pests actually eating the crop would be exposed, were believed to be safer for beneficial insects too compared to the older generation of sprays. Unfortunately, recent evidence shows that insects like bumblebees and honeybees can receive doses of neonicotinoids in various ways, including from the pollen and nectar of flowering crops. This certainly has a serious effect on bees in lab and field trials, but the jury is still out on whether neonicotinoids are causing population declines of honeybees and wild insects.
EFSA has reviewed all the evidence available on clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, looking at the different ways these neonicotinoids can affect bees. They used the data submitted to the EU when the pesticides were being developed for approval, and monitoring data and other research that has been published since.
EFSA’s findings reinforce the concern that many have raised before: there is a lack of data on some of the risks posed by neonicotinoid use. For example, there isn’t enough information to draw firm conclusions on risks to any insects other than honeybees. The report confirms that there is evidence of immediate harm to bees that consume pollen and nectar from treated crops, but also that there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about the long-term risks to bee colony survival.
So, in a way, nothing has changed: we know that in certain circumstances bees can be harmed by neonicotinoids, but we can’t tell if this is having an impact on populations at large. However, EFSA’s report is very important because it brings together all the research to date and makes an independent assessment of what the evidence is telling us. It highlights the most important knowledge gaps that needs to be filled, and points out some specific uses of neonicotinoids that we can fairly confidently say are high risk or low risk. On the basis of this work, EFSA has recommended that neonicotinoids should not be used on flowering crops that are attractive to bees, like oilseed rape.
The RSPB had already made the decision to eliminate use of neonicotinoids on our own land (except in cases where this would conflict with our conservation objectives for the site) and we'll be pushing ahead with this work.
The European Commission, which commissioned the report, must now consider the independent scientific opinion provided by EFSA in its policy decisions. Watch this space...
Hedgerows are a crisscrossing network of opportunities for wildlife in our landscapes. Making the most of this resource is one of the simplest ways to help wildlife on farmland.
There cannot be much doubt that hedgerows have generally got better for wildlife over recent decades. Many farmers now practice more sympathetic cutting regimes (in terms of timing and frequency), and hedgerow restoration has been a major part of agri-environment schemes. Part of this restoration work has been getting to grips with those hedgerows resembling ‘lollipops’ – a few feet of bare stems topped off with a bit of bush (example in photo below). Hedgerows are so much the poorer for wildlife without dense lower branches and rough grass at their base – it’s where many birds nest, where small mammals such as voles and harvest mice can live and a refuge for countless insects.
Restoring hedges in poor condition requires an appropriate combination of laying, coppicing, planting and often – especially where grazing pressure from livestock is quite high – some fencing.
A livestock farmer from the midlands recently ran into some trouble with the RPA inspectorate for trying to stop sheep eating out the base of his hedgerows. The inspector said he had fenced too far away from the hedge - on average he had fenced about 2m from the centre of the hedge, but in some places it was wider. It would mean that the fenced-off area would no longer be eligible for support through the Single Farm Payment Scheme (unless it was grazed!) and he would have to create a new field number for this small strip. So much for trying to do your bit for wildlife!
This interpretation could have been a serious blow to delivering conservation management on grazed farmland, so the RSPB and GWCT took up the case with the RPA to get some clarification. They have reviewed the situation, and everything is now sorted for the farmer in question, and they have clarified that no deductions will be made “as long as the fence is within 3 metres of the hedge”.
Have you had issues where fencing hedgerows or other habitats has been penalised?
The photo below is an example of what eventually happens without some timely restoration work – hedgerows imperceptibly disappearing, with the resulting loss in habitat, shelter for livestock and a very different looking countryside. The final picture reminds us just how good hedgerows can be, and of the much good work going on in the farmed countryside for them.