Congratulations to Nicholas Watts of Vine House Farm who has been unveiled as the 2013 winner of The Nature of Farming Award.
For the sixth year running, you voted in your thousands to crown the UK's most wildlife-friendly farmer and Nicholas is truly deserving of the title, and he firmly believes that farming and wildlife go hand in hand. He proves this with his extremely successful and profitable farm business.
Nicholas told us: “In 1992, after recording the breeding birds on my farm for 10 years, I realised there had been a big drop in numbers. This worried me so I set about trying to reverse that decline and I have succeeded with several species. Since the mid 1990s the national numbers of some farmland birds, such as the yellow wagtail, have continued to decline. I’m delighted to have shown that it’s possible to buck this trend, but I feel that farmers need to be given as much support as possible to put wildlife back on the land. We all want good quality food to eat, but most also want colour and birdsong in our farmed countryside too. Now, more than ever, we need the Government to support farmers like me and the many others who are doing good things for wildlife but who can’t continue without the financial support to do it.” You can read more about the work that Nicholas has done on his farm here.
Congratulations to all the other finalists and Highly Commended farmers from this year's competition too - keep up the good work!
Also congratulations to Mr Penri Desscan from Cardiff, who was the lucky winner of the prize draw
Posted on behalf of Niki Williamson, Fenland Farmland Conservation Advisor
Imagine the scene. You’re sitting in your home surrounded by your family with a fridge full of nice food when, out of the blue, somebody bulldozes it down around you.
Fleeing for your life, you take refuge in the nearest surviving shelter. As the dust settles, you gaze aghast on the devastation, trying to take in the new landscape. Homes have been flattened everywhere, it’s complete carnage.
But as the panic subsides, you start to take stock of what’s around you. You realise that, not only are you sheltering at an all-you-can-eat buffet, but someone has also littered the countryside with cake!
It all sounds like an apocalyptic dream from the tormented mind of a Farm Conservation Adviser, but actually, in the wake of this harvest season, I can imagine that this is what the countryside feels like to wildlife here in the East Anglian Fens – utter turmoil, a familiar landscape completely torn apart around you only to be replaced by a new one, rich in hedgerow berries, scattered seeds, and displaced creatures just waiting to be eaten.
Although food is abundant at this time of year, it disappears fast, and the winter is long. This is when the habitats that farmers provide through Environmental Stewardship schemes come into their own. Farmers can give nature a home through the winter by leaving their cereals stubbles in place, managing hedges to yield the maximum amount of fruit and shelter, and planting specialist unharvested crops, providing cover and food for a host of birds and mammals. Without this help, our wildlife would struggle to get through the winter in a modern farmed landscape.
As it happens, the harvest turmoil analogy holds true for a lot of us involved in wildlife-friendly farming at the moment. The current CAP programme is coming to an end, meaning entry into the Environmental Stewardship schemes – the ‘home’ of many wildlife-friendly farmers – has now been taken from the landscape. As the negotiations have trickled down the layers of European politics, the deal available for wildlife has been whittled away at every stage, and there is still a way to go.
The new environmental land management scheme is expected to open in 2015. For us, and for the ever-growing flocks of wildlife-friendly farmers, there is much work to be done to make sure the scattered seeds fall the best way, and that there will be enough to see us through the winter.
I attended a recent cultivation trial event for creating stone-curlew nesting habitat, I was there and it was very good and extremely thought provoking, Andrew Holland RSPB Brecks Farm Conservation Officer tells the story of the days events below.
Andrew Holland RSPB Brecks Farm Conservation Officer in full advisory mode (S. Tonkin RSPB)
Here in the Brecks we are extremely lucky to have one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds, the stone-curlew. With its large googly yellow eyes and long legs it almost reminds me of a prehistoric dinosaur, thankfully its not and being between 40 – 44cm its far less scary and its just a tiny bit paranoid too. The stone-curlews scientific name is Burhinus oedicnemus, this scientific name derives from the greek for ox; bous and rhis for nose the second word, a combination of oidos meaning a swelling and kneme refering to the knee, hence thick-knee. The stone-curlew belongs to the family or genus of the thick-knees and demonstrates rather aptly the characteristic long legs, big eyes and cryptic plumage of this group.
This iconic summer visitor plummeted in numbers earlier in the twentieth century due to changes in agricultural and forestry, but is now increasing in numbers due to the excellent work undertaken by farmers (through agri-environment schemes) working together with the RSPB and the continued work of other conservation organisations in the area too.
For the last twenty-eight years the RSPB has worked closely with farmers to create the right substrate, and level of vegetation conditions suitable for this fussy bird. There are so many different techniques that farmers can use to create what we call “Stone curlew nesting plots,” that we decided to organise a cultivation trial event, to look at the various types of machinery available to see which soil disturbance technique stood out, if any.
Farmers where invited on the first day, and day two, saw a good range of people from different conservation organisations advisers from Natural England and the RSPB and land managers from the forestry commision and Wildlife Trust. The farmers as usual brought their enthusiasm and practical ideas which was fantastic to see whilst the people on day two unsurprisingly brought their note books! (although they were also fiull of enthusiasm and ideas) .
Some of the ground disturbance techniques created level soil conditions, some rough, some soft and others firm, whilst the vegetation was either buried or not buried depending on the machinery used. Could decisions be made?
It looks like some of us have made our decisions already; unfortunately none of us are a stone-curlew, although one participant claimed he was half way to becoming one!
One of the attendees on day two was absolutely certain that the cultivation plots without any vegetation were the best. I would not like to be a weed in their garden. Although of course they make a valid point, stone curlews do not like too much vegetation.
The results from the two days will be interesting, as it is of vital importance that the nesting plots are right for birds to nest on. We need to create an area that stands out from the rest of the field, so they don’t nest in the crop where they could be at risk of normal agricultural operations. In my next write up, I will discuss the results and have photos of the best. Until then, every credit to the farmers for all the great work they are currently undertaking for the only breeding Thick knee species in Europe.
Partcipants at the plot trials event (Emily Field RSPB)