Since RSPB bought and started managing Hope Farm in 2000 we have hosted a wide range of visitors, from groups of farmers, industry representatives, government officials, MPs and Ministers. All have come to see how we have successfully halted and reversed the declines of farmland birds and farmland wildlife in general, all while producing great crops as well.
Amongst all the visitors, a small number have been from abroad – Bulgaria, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa amongst others. They are very interested to see what we are doing here at Hope Farm because declines of wildlife linked to agricultural changes is not unique to England, or the UK. It is a problem wherever rapid changes in how we grow and manage crops have taken place.
This is particularly true in western Europe, and it is quite possible that the fortunes of farmland birds in England, and the UK, are inextricably linked to how populations of the same species are faring in Europe. Hence our Birdlife partners in Europe lobby their Governments and the European Union just as vociferously as RSPB does.
Some of the most enthusiastic European visitors have come from our Birdlife partner in Germany, NABU. In 2013 representatives from NABU and The Michael Otto Foundation visited Hope Farm to specifically learn about what we have done here and how feasible similar projects may be in Germany.
Image by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
It is therefore really gratifying to learn that Hope Farm is being used as an example of good wildlife-farming practice in a widely read and respected German newspaper, Die Zeit. The article can be read here, but you will need to able to understand German!
If Modern Languages aren't your strong point, you can download an English version below, kindly translated by Richard Carden.
We are really pleased to be helping our European, and indeed international, conservation colleagues in their campaigns to protect wildlife across their farmed landscapes.
Today, we have a guest blog from Simon Tonkin, Conservation Manager at Conservation Grade. Simon explains a bit more about their Fair to Nature farmers, and asks for your support in celebrating some of the best farmers in a new competition.
"By growing under the Fair to Nature protocol, all our farms are committing at least 10% of their otherwise cropped area as habitats specifically managed for wildlife. You can help nature by being a Fair to Nature consumer and look for the logo on products that you can buy.
This year we have introduced a new award to celebrate the fantastic work our Fair to Nature farmers are doing for wildlife on their farms. You can hear about their work below and then why not vote for your favourite by visiting here."
Andrew Elms - West Sussex
Nestled in the South Downs, Lordington Lavender was established in 2002 by Andrew Elms. After selling his dairy herd he was looking for a new way to diversify and decided that Lavender would be a unique and exciting alternative. The crop is grown with conservation of habitat and the environment very much in mind. No fertilisers or pesticides are used on the lavender and it has become haven for wildlife.
Andrew manages specifically for wildlife through over wintered stubbles and wild bird mixes to provide food for birds over the winter, and has some brilliantly managed nectar flower and wildflower areas for insects. He has also created habitats as part of Operation Turtle Dove by sowing areas of Turtle Dove seed food. Additionally beetle banks for small mammals, Barn Owls and over wintering insects have been created in larger fields. If all that wasn’t enough, Andrew ensures that existing habitats are managed well with wildlife in mind.
Ian Crabtree – Derbyshire
Wild flower margins and nectar flower plots provide a boon for a variety of insects at this time of the year. These are often located in tandem with unharvested conservation headlands. Grassland fields are managed with a strict regime to benefit wildlife by creating variable sward structures that provide food and shelter for small mammals.
Nesting habitats are created for birds in the middle of fields as well as at the edges by creating cultivated areas that are left undisturbed over the summer months. These provide nesting opportunities for birds such as lapwings and skylarks. Skylarks get another benefit from Ian’s approach through the numerous skylark plots created within winter sown cereals.
Ian takes an integrated view of wildlife, not only does he value its intrinsic beauty and value but it also has a commercial benefit in the long-term as well by creating a wealth of predatory insects and birds that can control crop pests too.
Graham Birch - Dorset
Out of all the various habitats that Graham has created and continues to manage by being a Fair to Nature farmer he does have some favorites on the farm. Perhaps it’s no wonder that one of these happens to be the glorious Dorset chalk grassland which are abundant with wildflowers and as a result support a fantastic array of butterflies and moths.
His wildflower meadows support beautiful pyramidal, early purple and bee orchids which are encouraged by a late hay cut followed by sheep grazing.
The wildflower, nectar flower and bird seed plots have all made a noticeable difference to small birds on the farm when during winter flocks of linnets and corn buntings can be seen over the plots searching for seed whilst during the summer months grey partridges, corn buntings and skylarks can be found foraging in insect rich managed habitats. Lapwing, corn bunting and skylark nesting habitats are created and managed.
Graham approaches the conservation work on the farm in the same way he does the normal commercial part of his farming practices. The premium earned from the Fair to Nature products that Graham grows (together with stewardship payments) financially justify the work he puts into the habitat creation.
Charles Porter - Bedfordshire
Charles takes great care to ensure that the arable farming doesn’t encroach onto the wildlife areas and as he states “my conservation margins are sacrosanct” it gives you an indication of the care and effort that Charles happily puts into to make wildlife areas work.
Six separate areas of wild bird seed mixtures, plus a mixture of unharvested crop species provide for farmland birds in the winter months. Additionally, since these can be exhausted of seed late in the winter, Charles also scatters grain within them to provide a further boost to hungry birds.
Insects are encouraged in four blocks of sown nectar flower mixes where bumblebees hoverflies, butterflies and other insects abound, in turn providing food for insect eating birds including young Corn Buntings.
Along with sown areas of insect rich habitats Charles has created and managed wildflower areas including reverting an area from cultivations to wildflower meadows including two fields totaling 14ha now in their 11th year of reversion and now rich in wildflowers.
Adding to the diversity of habitats, ponds have been created or enhanced across the farm with seven ponds now supporting a wealth of life including dragonflies and damselflies, three of the ponds now support great crested newts.
Grey partridges, lapwings, spotted flycatchers, linnets, reed buntings, yellowhammers and corn buntings can all be found on the farm and benefit from the diversity and quality of habitats.
Two weeks ago RSPB attended the Royal Highland Show (RHS). Here, Chris Bailey, Advisory Manager for RSPB Scotland, reflects on the highlights from the show.
The Royal Highland Show (RHS) is one of the focal events of the year for RSPB Scotland. With just under 180,000 visitors attending this year, helped by excellent weather, the show gave us an opportunity to talk about RSPB’s work with farmers and crofters as well as our wider Give Nature A Home Campaign. In many ways there was a traditional feel to the show, industry announcements and discussions primarily happened on Thursday and Friday with the weekend focused on engaging with the general public. There was also the added spice of the Scottish referendum with lots of discussion about the pros and cons.
Image: Royal Highland Show 2014 by Nicola Bell
The RSPB held a reception on Friday celebrating our partnership working with landowners and farming organisations in our eight farm advice focus areas. Read more about our focus area work in South and West Scotland , East Scotland and North Scotland. The reception had a number of short talks from Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Debra Long from Plantlife Scotland and Paul Kirkland from Butterfly Conservation Scotland. The reception was well attended with several MSP’s, the NFUS President, chairs of SNH, SRUC & BASC, the CEO of the Crofting Federation and a number of farmers in attendance. We had an opportunity to talk about existing advisory work, future agri-environment targeting and the need for more specialist targeted advisory support. This will be essential as Scotland’s Rural Development Programme remains severely under-funded given the challenges it is being asked to address. The minister responded by discussing the Scottish Government’s aims during the next Programme. We were very grateful that the minister found time to attend within his very busy schedule.
At the weekend, the focus fell on Giving Nature A Home with a number of children's activities. One of the most popular was the drawing competition where we asked young visitors to draw a wildlife garden. One of my colleagues has a difficult job deciding an overall winner. I am glad I don’t have that responsibility as there were lots of entrants, all of which were very creative!