Posted in behalf of Anna Broszkiewicz, Conservation Monitoring Officer in the Midlands
Last month, the RSPB farming team from the Midlands attended the Festival of the Plough in Epworth, Lincolnshire. Five project volunteers joined farming staff on the stand and together we shared news about the Isle of Axholme farmland advice project and helped with many farmland wildlife enquiries, and some urban ones too! The project works with farmers in the Isle of Axholme, providing surveys, management advice and monitoring of the resulting benefits for wildlife. Each farm is surveyed every 3 years, with targets being set to conserve and support wildlife across the project area. Some of the farmers we are working with as part of the project came to catch up with us, and to talk about the continuing steps they are taking on their farms to support their birds and other wildlife.
Tree sparrows are one of the project’s target species, and we shared the locations where tree sparrows were spotted within the project area. We also offered a hand-made hopper, boxes and seed as a competition prize for farmers, which was won by Mr Ron Thornton. Advisor Jim Lennon will work with Mr Thornton and offer some specific advice for his farm.
We also ran a competition for non-farmers, who may not have tree sparrows but are likely to have house sparrows. A combination of boxes, seed and feeders was up for grabs and was won by Kath Fordham on behalf of Epworth Old Rectory. Bob and Mary Fish (project volunteers) are going to site the nest boxes in the optimum places and help with advice and support through the seasons.
This is the third year we have taken part in the festival. It's an area where we had rarely worked in the past and the project is beginning to reap rewards for wildlife. We are confident that continuing to work together will bring the long-term results we seek. Last year's winner of a barn owl box even returned to say he had erected the box over winter, and a pair of barn owls successfully raised two chicks. (See photo).
For more information, please contact Anna Broszkiewicz, Conservation Monitoring Officer (email@example.com) or Jim Lennon, Farmland Advisor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As we come to the end of our series of farmer views, we head to Exeter to hear from farmer Martyn Bragg, who has just recently submitted his Countryside Stewardship application to support the approach that he is taking on the farm.
(All views shared in this series are those of the individual farmer and have not been edited by the RSPB)
"I have recently applied to the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme and praying that we are accepted. We are an organic farm very close to Exeter. We grow and sell vegetables and fruits direct to local people through our veg box scheme and Farmers market. We have events on the farm for our customers 6 times a year and all are well attended. At our open day we had over 500 people. We have orchards and an agroforestry scheme, and grow some organic cereals.
Image: (C) Bridget Rendall
I was a conventional arable and sheep farmer until the late 90’s, but became disillusioned. With the threat of climate change and loss of wildlife being big concerns of mine, I chose to become organic and grow vegetables to supply locally. Also at the same time I entered the previous Countryside Stewardship in 1998. Fortunately this financial input at the time helped me keep afloat during the difficult, early years.
Our organic vegetable sales grew steadily in the early noughties until the recession hit. Again this was a hard time, but since then we have focused on efficiency and producing great organic crops. This has paid off, as in the last two years our direct sales have grown dramatically and there is a real upsurge of demand in organic and local produce and again I feel financially more secure. We are now employing 6 full time people.
Post-Brexit brings uncertainty again. Having good staff will be essential and it is probable agricultural wages will increase as there may well be less European workers. There is a strong argument that after 2020, Pillar 1 payments are reduced and it is my real hope that these payments are transferred to support either environmental benefits or giving small scale producers and new entrants opportunities and easy access to markets.
There is a growing interest among the public with what we are doing. People from Exeter love coming to visit, especially families with young children, to take part in our activity days and just to be out with nature. We already have a lot of biodiversity, but if we could increase the habitat for pollinators, invertebrates and for birds we would have a wonderful place. The diversity of wildlife will not only be a great resource for our organic vegetable and fruit growing as the pest /predator balance would have far more resilience, but also it will be a great resource for our visitors, who could really get a sense of how nature should be.
Image: Small copper butterfly (C) Bridget Rendall
The new CSS is a great opportunity for organic farmers as it really gives us the funds to do what we would really like to achieve. Having payments for areas to encourage nature relieves some of the financial stress of always having to have all our land producing yields to give us a sustainable income and believe me this is a challenge as prices are low and the costs of machinery and staff high. Providing winter shelter and giving a food source throughout the year is great for insects and birds and we have genuine hopes that the nearby cirl bunting population will be attracted to set up residence on our farm.
I am genuinely excited that we have the opportunity to not only have a really healthy soil and provide a great habitat for wildlife but also be able to produce really fresh, healthy produce to sell to local people."
For the third instalment in our week-long series of farmer opinions, we head to the East of England where farmer Jake Fiennes sets out his hopes for the future.