Blog by Georgina Bray, Hope Farm
Hope Farm has been a showcase of current times in agriculture this March. Skylarks and yellowhammers are singing, and lapwings displaying a sure sign that spring is here. To accompany the reassuringly repetitive changes of the seasons, the important and long-lasting decisions are being made with regards to changing policy. As a consequence, we have hosted key political players from DEFRA, using Hope Farm as an exemplar discussion point for a new lowland agricultural policy.
With the publication of DEFRA’s command paper on the future of food, farming and the environment post-Brexit, Hope Farm has hosted two key teams from Defra: the Environmental Land Management team, led by Gavin Ross, and the Permanent Secretary, Claire Moriarty, and her team.
Farm Manager, Ian Dillon, explains how we manage our farm for wildlife with Claire Moriarty. Credit: Abi Bunker
Claire Moriarty and her team were keen to look at Hope Farm as a model for implementing policy that could replicate our kind of management across the country, to stop the decline in farmland birds and improve sustainable farming practices. As well as showing how we have achieved such a diversity and abundance birds on the farm, we were able to host a meeting between a representative group from the Nature Friendly Farmers Network and the permanent secretary. This meeting provided a unique opportunity to explain the issues that farmers have had, first-hand with current policy, and discuss new and better ideas for the future that will lead to a greater uptake of wildlife friendly and sustainable farming, long-term.
Claire Moriarty, Permanent Secretary of DEFRA, stands with representative farmers from the network, after a productive meeting to discuss future farming policy. Credit: Georgie Bray
During the Environmental Land Management team visit, we were able to provide advice on how future farming policy may be designed, and what considerations should be made to efficiently and effectively serve wildlife, farmers, and the public whom are paying for these services on agricultural land. We showed them around the farm and explained what careful considerations will need to be thought through to ensure that farmers provide public goods with good value for public money.
Having key governmental players visit the farm is fundamental whilst we prepare to leave the European Union. Brexit has provided both opportunity and risk, where policy can be rewritten for better or worse for both farmer and nature. In keeping a discussion going with the people putting pen to paper, between us and farmers, we can hope to ensure a good deal for everybody who will be affected by the future of farming.
Matterley is a 2400 acre mixed farm with 200 dairy cattle and 1100 acres of arable including wheat, barley and oilseed rape. The farm has been in Higher Level Stewardship since 2014, and forms part of the Winchester Downs Farm Cluster group. Recently a decision was made to create a butterfly scrape to establish a breeding area for native Lepidoptera on the farm, including the small blue butterfly and the striped lychnis moth.
Find out more about how the scrapes have been created, and how they will be managed, in this new case study on Farm Wildlife
Farm Wildlife has been developed to provide best practice guidance on how to help wildlife on farmland, provided by a partnership of some of the UK’s leading conservation organisations, including Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts.
Guest blog by Anna Brand, Land Use Policy Officer, RSPB Scotland
The Agri-environment Climate Scheme (or AECS) began accepting applications for its 2018 round on January 17th. The scheme compensates and/or incentivises farmers and crofters for managing their land to help wildlife, to improve the health of the wider environment, and to help tackle climate change, contributing towards sustainable land management for years to come.
AECS is one of the best ways to get financial support to help wildlife and do our bit for the environment. Through the scheme you can access public funding to help save threatened farmland species such as the corncrake, corn bunting, curlew, marsh fritillary and great yellow bumblebee as well as protecting soil and water. It can also be used to create, manage or restore important farmland habitats such as hedgerows, wetlands and species-rich grasslands. Applications can be submitted both as a single business, and when working as a collaboration with neighbours and nearby holdings. It can also help support traditional crofting practices that allow certain species and habitats to thrive, like keeping cattle on the Western Isles to benefit machair – a long-standing part of many crofting businesses.
As with any funding scheme, the application process can seem daunting, but starting early, seeking advice, and checking out Scottish Government’s full top tips and common application mistakes can help with some of the usual pitfalls. We’re just discussing a snapshot of these here.
One of the first important steps is to check out what is available on your land. Which options are available on your holding? Which parts of your farm are eligible for the options that you are interested in? Where is the best place for wildlife to put each of the options? Resources such as Farm Wildlife can provide advice on how you can maximise the benefit of your agri-environment options for wildlife.
If you have land on a designated site (e.g. SPA, SSSI or an SAC), there may be additional requirements you need to consider. Scottish Government advise that you check with Scottish Natural Heritage if you are on a designated site, and they may be able to offer you some advice.
You must also check which documents you need to submit. For example, you can earn points for managing your land to benefit priority species, if you have fulfilled the necessary requirements. If you have, say, curlew and snipe on your farm, you can score points for managing for these if you have included wader options and capital items in your application and submitted the Vulnerable Priority Species form. The same applies for other priority species; the full list can be found here.
Collaborative applications with neighbours can, if well designed, be better for wildlife by providing larger, linked up habitats. For this reason, working with neighbours can earn additional points in the assessment process, increasing your chances of a successful application. But as with the priority species, if you are submitting a collaborative application, you need to make sure you have submitted the proof for these collaborations; you can find more information here: Scoring Criteria.
These are just some suggestions for a smooth application process to AECS. If in doubt about the application, get in touch with your local RPID or SNH office. The window which opened on January 17th runs until April 13th, with an extension to May 31st for applications of more than 5 collaborators.
Images: Machair by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com); young lapwing by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).