May and June is our busiest time of year in terms of visitors and events that Hope Farm. We are yet to take a visitor on a walk since May without the sun beating down upon us, which could be both a positive and a negative. As a positive, in true British style, anybody coming along is pleased to make the most of any warmth outside as you never know if another 3 months of rain is hiding around the corner, but as a negative the visitors’ attention is perhaps harder to maintain with warm weather lending itself to a siesta rather than brain-engaging conversation. Despite this we have had a fantastic few months, sharing what we do and importantly learning from what many people have tried on their land as well.
In May we had a Fair to Nature training day, with 35 NSF auditors and farmers coming to top up their training as part of their membership, and to see what we do for wildlife on the farm. Fair to Nature is an accreditation scheme that rigorously ensures any farmer with this label on their produce puts land aside to look after nature on their farm. It was great to meet likeminded farmers, share a lot of knowledge from both sides, but also speak about the difficulties we have experienced during this late, wet spring and very dry summer, like every other farmer.
Fair to Nature Auditors and Farmer members in a turtle dove plot, hearing about our work to provide summer breeding habitats
Following the Fair to Nature training, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust came to look at how we manage the farm for wildlife with the company of Nicholas Watts. This proved to be another fruitful event for knowledge exchange and building up important relationships across organisations, and it is always to speak with people who came and saw the farm a few years ago, who have noticed the progress Hope Farm has made since their previous visit. Finally, we welcomed a group of farmers from across East Anglia to the farm. This was a diverse group from those of varying soil types, stages in their career, and aspirations for what species they wanted to conserve on their farm. A walk around to discuss our integrated pest management system, showing them the insects on the farm that we try to promote to help control aphid and other insect pest densities in our crop, followed by a well earnt lunch served as the perfect platform for engaging discussions about sustainably farming for wildlife.
Farmers from across East Anglia discussing the benefits of wildflower corridors through fields as part of an Integrated Pest Management system.
Aside from our LEAF Open Farm Sunday event on the second Sunday of June, we have been making the most of the sun with yet more visitors having a look at what we do for wildlife in agriculture. SEO Birdlife are working to conserve farmland birds, and in the Aragon region of Spain a 1000 hectare farm is demonstrating wildlife friendly farming to encourage others to do the same. It was very useful for both us and our visitors to compare notes of achieving similar goals in very different landscapes and cultures. More recently, the National Trust also joined us to see investigate higher nature status farming, and what it means to us.
Having visitors to the farm is a big part of our work as a demonstration of wildlife friendly farming. By opening the doors to anybody interested in our work and looking to see how they can use some of our methods to improve wildlife on their own land, we can fulfil one of main aims – to help create many more wildlife friendly farms in the wider landscape.
For the last three previous years at Hope Farm, we have celebrated LEAF Open Farm Sunday with additions of new and exciting activities every year. On Sunday we were thrilled to open our gates to around 800 visitors from all around the area. Our aim was to help people engage with, be educated about, but mostly enjoy experiencing wildlife friendly farming at the heart of it. I think its safe to say that we succeeded with members of staff, volunteers, and other farmers from the local area all teaming up and giving up their Sundays to create a festival of farming.
Activities were enjoyed from the sheep and wool spinning, to the tractor and trailer rides, pond dipping, bug hunting, wildlife friendly and sustainable farming stands, bird ringing demonstrations, actual hatching chicks(!), farm machinery on display, and excellent food from Steak and Honour and Verrechia’s Ice Creams. We were also thankful for the attendance of the Cambridgeshire Mammal Group who did a fantastic display of what mammals can be found in Cambridgeshire farmland accompanied by mammal traps running throughout the day.
Special thanks go to Martin Lines and his tractor team for supplying the machinery, the bales for seating; to the Cambridge University Natural History Society for helping with the bug hunting, identification, and pond dipping, to Simon and Gemma Dell for a fantastic display of their sheep and what amazing garments you can make with their wool; and the rest of the volunteer team who were amazing across the whole farm, smiling from dawn ‘til dusk to make sure every visitor had a fantastic time.
The best quote of the day remains from a young visitor telling his parents that he had been on “The best adventure ever!”
Meeting members of the public and educating people about sustainable and wildlife friendly farming is a big part of what we do at Hope Farm, but it is quite rare that we can hold such an event as Open Farm Sunday. LEAF helped put together another fantastic nationwide event each year with over 270,000 visitors across the country visiting a farm last Sunday. I am sure that Hope Farm isn’t in isolation in how many people were left inspired for the work that farmers, helping to put good quality food on the table.
A new report commissioned by the Highlands and Islands Agriculture Support Group highlights the significant challenges that could be faced by farming and crofting communities in the Highlands and Islands, post Brexit. The report assesses the likely impacts of different Brexit scenarios on the economy and communities and their related effects on wildlife, the environment and key sectors such as tourism.
The report concludes that existing trends such as declining agricultural activity, land abandonment and a shrinking agricultural workforce, could be accelerated by Brexit. These trends have negative effects on environmental land management and upstream and downstream sectors such as food and drink and tourism. Future policy and funding will need to respond to these challenges and reflect the distinctive needs and contributions of the Highlands and Islands.
The Highlands and Islands Agriculture Support Group (HIASG) which commissioned the report, is now calling on the Scottish Government to take note of its findings and ensure that future farming, land management and rural development policy provides a targeted response.
The work was carried out by consultants Dr Andrew Moxey of Pareto Consulting and Steven Thomson of SRUC for HIASG which is comprised of representatives of all Highlands and Islands local authorities and RSPB Scotland.
Fergus Ewing said: “I welcome this important report, which highlights the distinctive challenges of farming in the Highlands and Islands, both in terms of the land and those available to work it. It confirms what I have been saying ever since the Brexit referendum – that Brexit is going to be the biggest challenge that the industry and rural communities has faced for generations. It is therefore vital that the special circumstances of the Highlands and Islands are not ignored, and that their unique social, economic and environmental conditions remain supported.”
Douglas Irvine, Economic Development Manager for Shetland Islands Council, and Chair of HIASG said, “This report is a wake-up call and shows how important farming and crofting is to the economy, people and environment of the Highlands and Islands, but also how vulnerable it is. The challenges faced here look set to increase rather than diminish. “
He continued, “We urge the Scottish Government to ensure future farming and rural policy and funding responds effectively to the scale of the challenges faced by this region and is well targeted. The Government must set out its thoughts on this as a matter of some urgency to give farmers, crofters and other rural businesses time to adapt to the changes that are coming.”
Just over two-thirds of Scotland’s High Nature Value farmland is located in the Highlands and Islands region due to extensive farming methods and small-scale farming and crofting. The region has a high share of sites designated for their national and international environmental importance, benefiting birds such as corncrake and curlew, great yellow bumblebees and habitats such as machair and peatlands. This environmental quality draws visitors from far and wide.
Machair habitat and Northern Marsh orchid - managed by crofters at RSPB Balranald reserve. Image: www.rspb-images.com
Vicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy at RSPB Scotland, which is a member of HIASG, said, “To date, the continuation of traditional farming and crofting practices have helped to create a region that is of enormous environmental importance, home to fantastic wildlife and iconic landscapes. We call on the Scottish Government to ensure that, in future, the environmental land management carried out by farmers and crofters – and all the public benefits that provides – are properly supported and rewarded.”
She continued, “A recent public poll showed overwhelming public support for farmers being paid for managing their land in ways that are good for wildlife, reduces climate warming greenhouse gases and improves water quality, amongst other things. The Highlands and Islands are well placed to benefit from such an approach.”
For the full report and a short briefing paper, follow the link here.