I'm always impressed when a community pulls together for a cause they feel strongly about.
Recently I helped organise a local wildlife walk in one of Warwickshire's more rural villages, and the nearby farmers, as well as villagers, certainly turned up in force to support the nature on their doorsteps.
The event highlighted how important their parish was for two particular species - turtle dove and grizzled skipper butterfly. Like much of the UK's nature, they're in trouble, but can be helped by creating homes that are just right for them.
When it comes to choosing where to lay their eggs, grizzled skippers are like Goldilocks, explained Warwickshire Butterfly Conservation officer, Mike Slater. They need everything to be just right. Right plant, right place and a leaf at just the right angle...
Fortunately, the countryside around the village has all the right ingredients to support a scattering of grizzled skipper colonies, as well as providing a summer home to several turtle doves. Indeed, it was local bird-watcher and surveyor Tim Marlow who highlighted the importance of this area nearly a year ago, and started the idea of running an event for local people.
Turtle doves were once more purring from the lines of mature scrub, displaying over a stretch of disused canal, and feeding on fumitory, and even oilseed rape, in nearby arable fields.
Matt Willmott from Natural England pointed out that providing the right plants for turtle doves to feed on during their breeding season was key, and could often by supported financially through agri-environment schemes.
Lots of villagers were quick to volunteer their own sightings, and it was great to be able to highlight how several local farmers were already doing their bit to help these species. Lots of the farmers, as well as managers of nearby angling clubs, fishing lakes and nature reserves ended the event offering to help. Each of them will get more one-to-one support over the coming weeks.
Only time will tell how successful this community will be in helping their special wildlife celebrities. The collective of conservationists will be on hand to support them, but ultimately it will be up to the enthusiasm and dedication of local people to make sure turtle doves and skippers continue to have a home in the area.
From what I saw that evening, I think they're in good hands.
By Kev Rylands, Farmland Conservation Adviser
Charlie Watson Smyth and his family have been farming along the Cornish coast for generations and are worthy South West winners of this year’s Nature of Farming Award. Claire Mucklow, the Cornwall Chough project manager introduces the scene...
Walking around a corner of Tregirls Farm yesterday I couldn’t stop smiling and wished there was someone else with me to share the experience. I was meant to be monitoring corn buntings, but was so distracted by all the other wildlife around me I will have to go back again to find out how they are doing. Summer really had kicked in and the place was hooching with insect life. At last the butterflies were out in force, skipping around the margins and patrolling the fields and Cornish hedges. What fumitory was that? That’s a beetle I had not seen before. It was far too hot to be lugging around id books and of course where was my camera? Defying the intense midday sun, skylarks were singing high overhead in the cloudless sky, hawking dragonflies zipped past, and yellowhammers gleaming bright yellow dots among the brambles – good job I remembered my sunglasses!
In the distance on the cliff slopes red Devon cattle were taking a break from munching their way through the coastal grasses, no doubt looking over to the longer grass fields nearby, fields managed for ground nesting birds but their broods have not fledged yet so the cattle will just have to wait – soon though, their time will come.
The work the Watson Smyth family do here at Tregirls is really making a difference for wildlife. A very visible difference. I think back to when I first came here thirteen years ago, knocking on the door to ask for help for corn buntings, which were hanging on by a thread in Cornwall. Back then, some of the coastal land at Tregirls had been in the Countryside Stewardship scheme for a number of years and was already paying dividends for many species but the family were very happy to do more, so we worked together and with Natural England, adding in options that catered for arable plants, invertebrates and farmland birds; now the phrase ‘wildlife friendly’ can be applied across the holding. Along the way, Charlie and his sons have also helped us with our research, experimenting with different grass and arable management to work out what corn buntings need to survive, helping to shape options that can be used elsewhere in the UK for this increasingly rare bird.
Higher Level Stewardship was a natural progression and is crucial – Tregirls is a tenanted, commercial farm and supports three families and a number of other employees, rents have to be paid and crops have to sell for maximum prices. Giving nature a home is something the Watson Smyth family strongly believe they have a responsibility for, but they need to run a profitable business too, so the income forgone payments they receive through stewardship helps them make a pro-nature choice when they are making business decisions . I spoke to Charlie, ‘ We have even learnt to love weeds in some of our fields’ – how many farmers will say that these days? – well in this part of Cornwall more than you would think, as many other farmers like Charlie are working with us to provide homes for wildlife on a landscape scale. This part of Cornwall really is buzzing, it’s not just a hot spot for holidays it’s a hot spot for wildlife too.
....and some more words from Charlie.
"We are thrilled to have won the South West Nature of Farming Award this year and to be recognised in this way. We have enjoyed working with the RSPB over the years, and doing the practical work to put in the place the ideas and experiments to help farmland birds. Yes, some of it has been quite challenging and we have had to adapt and learn, but seeing the results first hand from the tractor cab makes it worth it. We are not experts, but we can see how many more birds, mammals and insects there are compared to a decade or so ago. I hope we demonstrate you can produce food but still have the wildlife too, it’s not difficult especially with advice and support. If we can do this and still farm in the way we need to produce food, we would like to encourage more farmers to do the same.
Our part of Cornwall is a great place to live and work and has always been popular with tourists www.tregirlscottages.co.uk. Increasingly, people are coming to experience nature not just the sandy beaches and surfing, they are coming in winter too, which to us in Cornwall is important, we all rely so heavily on tourism. We would like to see more responsible tourism that respects our wildlife, and it is nice to think we are doing our bit. We have seen through our farm shop www.padstowfarmshop.co.uk a growing movement of local people who want to know where their food comes from, who is producing it and that it is being produced with respect for the countryside. Our stewardship agreement helps us to achieve what local people want – that has to be good for all of us."
Charlie is now in the UK final for this year's top Award. To vote for Charlie and his family click here.
If you've been watching TV this last couple of weeks, I hope you managed to catch our fabulous new TV advert. If not, you can see it here:
You will see that the big focus for our campaign is to encourage people everywhere - including those in cities with small gardens - to do a bit for nature in their garden. I have been asked whether this means we are moving away from all the work we do with farmers, to concentrate on people in towns.
My loud and insistent response is ABSOLUTELY NOT!
This is just the first phase in a new approach for the RSPB. Our fundamental raison d’être remains the same - helping threatened wildlife flourish alongside and amongst us. We are a small island, under pressure from a growing population, using more resources, needing more places to live and work, and facing big issues like climate change. Currently too much of our wildlife is losing the battle. We need more people to see the trouble our wildlife is in. (If you are any doubt about it, take a look at the State of Nature report published earlier this year by 25 wildlife organisations. The report reveals that 60 per cent of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.)
We simply need more people to do something about it, wherever they live.
So this first step is talking to those who may only have a small outdoor space, and may not know that much about nature. But they know they enjoy hearing the dawn chorus, and seeing a butterfly land on a flower - even if they don't know what its called. There's a lot of people like that out there, so encouraging them all to do something adds up to doing a whole lot together.
We then want to encourage those people to look beyond their back garden. Once they have realised why they should help, and how they can help, we will be encouraging them to see the wider countryside, and see how they can help there. Including how they can support the vital work of wildlife-friendly farmers across the UK.
And whilst we are doing that, we will continue to be working with farmers. There's fewer of you than those we are trying to reach with the TV advert, but individually you can each make a bigger difference to the fortunes of the UK's wildlife. Simply because farmland makes up so much of the habitat our wildlife depends on. So we will continue to work just as hard as ever with farmers giving nature a home - both directly through our Advisors, and through our FarmWildlife partnership.
As another TV advert says..... "Because you're worth it"