Earlier this month, RSPB staff attended Europe’s leading technical event for the arable farming industry - Cereals. Over 20,000 visitors attend the show, and there are more than 2000 exhibitors to choose from. This year our theme was Hope Farm (see our blog post here), offering a showcase of what we have achieved over the last 15 years, and what our future research plans are.
The RSPB stand at Cereals 2017. Image: Anna Broszkiewicz
As well as visuals, literature, a competition and an interactive vote, this year we also took part in the BASIS knowledge trail (BASIS is an independent standards setting and auditing organisation, and members have to regularly collect points to maintain their knowledge and membership). We hoped it would attract some new visitors to the stand, and give us the opportunity to share information about Hope Farm and of course, how to farm for wildlife.
We had our first visitor at 7.45am on the first day, and over the two days 140 visitors came to the RSPB stand to collect points and learn more about wildlife-friendly farming.
Image: Anna Broszkiewicz
Over the two days of the show, the visitors to our stand had the opportunity to talk to specialist advisory staff about how to integrate management for the benefit of wildlife alongside their main business of producing food, as well as asking questions about particular species, management and the future of farming. We always get a great deal out of the conversations that we have with those who come to talk to us, learning from others' experiences and being able to share our own.
Many of the visitors expressed an interest in visiting Hope Farm for a tour with the farm manager, to talk in more detail about how we've achieved the increases in wildlife we have seen over the last 15 years or so. If you'd like to see a snapshot of Hope Farm for yourself, BBC's The One Show aired a piece last night on skylarks - featuring our very own Ian Dillon and the aerial songsters who call the farm home. You can watch the episode here.
Project Officer Natalie Pagett offers an insight to her work on the Humber to help farmers, wildlife and water
Over the past few years we’ve been working with the Environment Agency to identify ways to manage farmland in a way that benefits farming, wildlife, and water management. During this time we have looked at various techniques that provide these multifunctional benefits, including biodiversity-rich storage reservoirs, temporary wetlands, washlands, and constructed wetlands.
We’re focusing primarily on land around the inner Humber Estuary and Humberhead Levels. This is because wetlands in this area are fragmented and degraded, while the local infrastructure, communities and farmland face high flood risk. Rising sea levels and changing climate will further exacerbate the problems facing this intensively farmed landscape, prompting a need for integrated approaches to land and water management.
The intertidal areas on the Estuary, including the mudflats, sandy beaches, saltmarshes, dunes, saline lagoons, and reedbed provide shelter and food for a lot of wildlife, including internationally important wintering and breeding birds such as marsh harriers, avocets, little terns, bitterns, hen harriers, golden plovers, and bar-tailed godwits. Other protected species including the grey seals, sea and river lampreys, eels, great created newts, and otters also use the estuary and its tributaries, making it a key area to protect and enhance.
Recently, we’ve been exploring those techniques that offer the greatest potential at a site-specific scale, using landholdings on the Humber as an example. This includes developing a better understanding of the relevant consents and permits required to implement the techniques, looking at ways to manage the land more effectively for wildlife, exploring the practical implications of a site specific design, as well as the financial costs and benefits to the landowner.
We have narrowed our search down to several techniques, focusing primarily on temporary wetlands.
A background to temporary wetlands
Temporary wetlands are a concept from the USA where arable land is shallowly flooded for anything up to four years. This approach attracts a greater range and number of birds, and also saves money through reductions in pests and weeds, and improved soil fertility and yield. This approach is used over a shorter period (up to four months) in other countries such as the Netherlands to eradicate nematodes from bulb, carrot, and potato fields. We visited the Netherlands last year to better understand the logistics behind this method, including how effective the technique is for attracting birds, and managing farmland pests and diseases.
An example of a 4 month temporary wetland in the Netherlands. Image: Pete Short
Testing the technique in the UK
As this method is new to the UK, and limited evidence is available detailing its benefits on clay soils, we hope to trial the method on arable land around the Estuary. We have recently applied for funding, in coordination with the Environment Agency, with the aim of developing a four-year programme to monitor and evaluate the effect of flooding plots for extended periods. This will include small-scale experimental plots where we can monitor the effects of the technique on soil fertility and structure, water quality, soil organisms, and weed/pest management. We also plan to deliver larger scale trials where we can monitor bird activity, invertebrates, and the effects of salinity on the soil.
Moorhen on a temporary wetland trial plot at Blacktoft. Image: Pete Short
If you're planning to visit the Royal Highland Show this year, why not visit the RSPB Scotland stand and find out more about our work?
For a bit of background on how we're working with farmers and crofters across Scotland to help five particular species, check out the post from our RSPB Scotland team here.