Chris Bailey, Advisory Manager RSPB Scotland, tells us more about the important work we do with farmers and others across Scotland.
Did you know that every year RSPB Scotland staff assist hundreds of farmers, crofters and land managers across Scotland by providing advice and support on a range of issues – from helping priority species to managing important farmland, upland and woodland habitats. A lot of our work focuses on high priority species including curlew, lapwing, corncrake, black grouse and capercaillie. We know that many species respond to sensitive management and agri-environment schemes are very effective if deployed properly. RSPB Scotland has a highly skilled and knowledgeable team of staff who work tirelessly with land managers to help wildlife. Staff continue to work closely in partnership with agricultural agents and farming organisations to ensure farmers and crors have the opportunity to enter grant schemes. These partnerships includes initiatives supporting farmers in important breeding wader areas in Caithness, Clyde Valley, Grampian, Shetland, and Strathspey; corn bunting in East Scotland and corncrakes in Durness, Orkney, Skye and Uists. In this blog we will look at how we showcased some of these projects over the summer to government, industry and the public.
Image: Chris Bailey
The stand at the Royal Highland Show focused on our work with farmers, our nature reserves and what people can do to give nature a home in their own garden. In the farming area we highlighted some of RSPB Scotland’s key advisory projects including work within the Berwickshire Arable Wildlife Project. Farmers within this project undertake conservation work alongside growing commercial crops including wheat, malting barley and oilseed rape. They create and manage many different habitats designed to help wildlife. These include creation of new ponds and wild bird cover plots, management of hedgerows and careful grazing of species-rich grasslands which contain rare plant species. Most of this work is funded through agri-environment schemes, the most recent being the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP). We were joined at the Royal Highland Show by four farmers from the project who spoke to visitors about how they worked with RSPB and their wildlife friendly farming operations. The stand was a major success not only in encouraging a range of MSPs and government officials to visit, including Roseanna Cunningham the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change but also engaging the public about the importance to wildlife of the farmed landscape.
Roseanna Cunningham and Anne McCall, RSPB Scotland Director. Image: RSPB
Our advisory work in Berwickshire and in East Scotland relating to Corn Buntings, was also showcased when we hosted the Scotch Whisky Association at a farm in Berwickshire. Discussions focused on how we could work together to increase the wildlife value of farms growing malting barley for the industry. Malting Barley has been shown to be very important for corn buntings with 48 per cent of territorial males in Angus and Fife associated with this spring sown crop. It also provides important wintering habitat through seed-rich winter stubbles.
Finally in Strathspey we hosted a visit from agri-environment leads from Scottish Natural Heritage, SCPID (Scottish Inspection Division) and Scottish Government to two farms who are part of the Strathspey Waders and Wetlands initiative. The initiative, which has been in operation since 2000, covers 10,000 hectares of the floodplain along the river Strath. It is a collaboration between agricultural advisors, conservation bodies and farmers and aims to support one of the largest populations of waders on mainland Scotland. More than 50 agri- applications, covering 24 square kilometres, have been successfully submitted as part of the project. These plans include options focused on the wetlands, mown and grazed grasslands, species-rich grasslands and cropped fields. During the visit we were able to highlight the options on the ground and discuss with the farmers the challenges of delivering agri-environment alongside livestock production. Probably the best part of the day though was passing a field with a mixed flock of several hundred waders. Proof that the farmer’s hard work does deliver results.
In this guest blog, farmer Chris Crocker further explains his own motivations for the National Hedgerow Initative that his brother Rob Crocker introduced to us here.
(All views shared are those of the individual farmer and have not been edited by the RSPB)
Our hedgerows are a vital wildlife habitat which many farmers and landowners are unwittingly destroying. This is a relatively recent problem. I have been farming for 40 years in Cornwall and the annual trimming of every hedge each year is something quite new. This has happened for various reasons but the most common is for ‘aesthetics.’ Many farmers seem to think that ‘neat and tidy’ is more important than maintaining a diverse habitat which will support wildlife.
Chris and Rachel Crocker. Image: Claire Mucklow
The fact is that most blossom is produced on last year’s growth. If hedges are flailed each year there will be no blossom. No blossom, no pollen, no nectar, nothing for the bees and other insects, no berries for the birds to feed on and prepare for winter. If hedges are trimmed so hard that there is no vegetation or they are thin and spindly there is nowhere for birds to nest and hide from predators.
Here in North Cornwall we are very exposed and the hedges have been ‘sculpted’ by the wind and have become part of the iconic landscape with the characteristic bent trees and shrubs leaning away from the prevailing south-westerlies.
My brothers and I want to try and create a farmer-led initiative [one of the main reasons we hear that people voted out of Europe was that we did not want to be told what to do by Brussels] to create wildlife corridors using hedges to link farms and wildlife habitats. Now we have the opportunity to produce a workable plan of our own to manage wildlife habitats. It’s a very simple idea with no cost [even saving money on hedge-trimming].
Image: Claire Mucklow
We know that British farmers produce the best food in the world with the best welfare standards. We also need to produce it in the most environmentally friendly manner.
What we are proposing is not costing us anything extra but it will add value to our produce whether it is meat, vegetables or grain. If we can truly say that we are responsible custodians of the countryside then that has got to be worth something and we believe it is something that the general public would support. We will be passing on a better environment for future generations.
The aim is for farmers to voluntarily manage 10% or more of their hedges in a far more sympathetic manner e.g. only trimming every 3-4 years to allow the hedges to mature and create habitats and a larder for hedgerow birds and creatures. Hedges will become corridors connecting farm to farm, wildlife site to wildlife site. Some farms have SSSI’s, some have moorland, wetland and woodland. These need to be linked together.
Image: Chris Crocker
Could you take a similar approach on your own farm? If you're interested in finding out more or getting involved, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest blog by Sarah Allison, Farming and Land Use Manager, Soil Association Scotland
Soil Association Scotland has, for the last 15 years, been at the forefront of knowledge transfer between land managers (farmers, growers, and crofters), and researchers and specialists in rural Scotland. Earlier this year we kicked off a new knowledge transfer programme – ‘Farming With Nature’ – with RSPB Scotland and Scottish Water as partners.
Improving the bottom line is paramount to farm businesses, and is a fundamental objective of the programme, which will explore five key areas over the 3-year lifespan of the project:
We will look at these topics through a business benefit lens – through increasing production, reducing costs, or improving business resilience. And of course these practices also benefit the environment, so we will make sure we highlight ways of managing land that is both better for the bank balance, and better for the environment.
So, how do we plan on doing this?
Over the next 3 years a network of on-farm workshops are planned, and will bring in expert speakers from as far away as New Zealand and Australia. Our topics will be based around proven, practical research briefs. We will be working with a range of agricultural research organisations through the newly formed SEFARI group to bring farmers and land managers up to date with the most up to date accurate information out there. In this critically important pre-Brexit period, the guardians of our landscape will be equipped with the tools needed to face whatever challenges they may face in the future.
Habitat Creation and Management
Creating and managing farmland habitats and features such as hedgerows, beetle banks and field margins supports pollinators, natural pest predators and other wildlife. Creating linkages between them can deliver more biodiversity within farmed landscapes.
Peatlands are a vitally important part of our upland areas. They carry out an amazing amount of ecosystem services that benefit everyone: acting as a carbon sink, flood water store, wildlife habitat, and clean water filter. Restoring areas of peatland are now a key priority for the Scottish Government. As our rural policy framework changes, these sorts of areas that provide real benefits for the public could well form part of a new income stream to land managers.
Support for land managers could change in the next few years, and it looks like funding will be linked to land management that delivers ecosystem services.
Dr John Holland of SRUC Hill and Mountain Research Centre discussing wader scrapes with farmers at ‘Worming Your Way to Profit’ held in July 2017. Image: Sarah Allison
Crop Rotation, Clover Leys, Green Manures and Catch Crops
Fertiliser use can be reduced by adopting and improving a range of farming practices, including crop rotation, grass/clover leys, and green manures. Using less fertiliser saves money, and reduces the risk of pollution. The main cause of agricultural N2O (a really potent greenhouse gas) emissions is the application of synthetic fertiliser to agricultural soils. Increasing the uptake of these practices, as well as improving soil structure and soil health to improve drainage, will also reduce N2O emissions: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the carbon footprint of farm businesses. These practices can also be good for biodiversity. Nitrogen fertiliser is an agricultural input which has a financial and environmental cost. Reducing or eliminating it is a win-win for businesses and the environment.
Non-Chemical Pest Control
Rushes and bracken are invasive grass weeds that are a major problem for many farms, reducing the amount of grazing available for livestock. Controlling rushes with chemicals has created water quality issues in some areas, and there are many wider issues with using chemicals for bracken control. Areas of rushes can also be a wildlife habitat, if managed correctly.
Increasing the sustainable productivity and profitability of livestock production, especially in areas of natural constraint, is vital to ensure the conservation and enhancement of some of Scotland’s most important areas for wildlife and outstanding natural beauty.
Davie Black of Plantlife demonstrating how farmers can identify Scottish wildflowers and how good grazing management can enrich the value of these areas. Image:
Animal Health Planning
Animal health planning techniques have shown to produce healthier livestock that are more productive. In addition to this, certain treatments can be detrimental to wildlife including dung beetles that play a vital economic role in livestock production but are under threat from use of anthelmintics (livestock wormers). It is estimated that dung beetles save the UK's cattle industry £367m a year by encouraging the growth of healthy grass and eating animal droppings harbouring parasites harmful to livestock.
Proactive promotion of health, rather than reactive treatment of disease, is important for animal welfare, and also for farm business income.
Soil Nutrient Management
Erosion and climate change have been cited by the Scottish Soil Framework as the biggest threats to Scotland’s soils. Climate change will also exacerbate soil erosion, pollution, and flood damage. The financial impacts through lost production can be minimised if good farming practices are adopted. Soil is a fundamental resource for farmers, and is very important to the Soil Association. Farming With Nature will promote these practices. Farms using soil nutrient management techniques have been shown to increase soil organic matter, improve water retention and drainage, and reduce the risk of soil erosion and flooding. Improving soil health and function can help farm businesses become more resilient as our climate continues to change. It can also play a really important part in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon.
Workshop Report - Worming Your Way to Profit Date: 7th of JulyVenue: SRUC Hill and Mountain Research Centre, CrianlarichSpeakers: Professor Davy McCracken, Dr Philip Skuce, Dr Fiona Kenyon, Dr John Holland, Harriet Wishart, Jenna Kyle
Image: Sarah Allison
If you would like more information on Worming Your Way To Profit please contact Sarah at Soil Association Scotland, SAllison@soilassociation.org