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Bringing nature and farming together

PUBLISHED: 09:44 19 September 2016

Wildflower-filled field edges are a vital habitat for both birds and bees - farmers receive a grant as part of the European Common Agricultural Policy - after Brexit, it's unclear at present whether this will continue (Photo: Josh Kubale)

Wildflower-filled field edges are a vital habitat for both birds and bees - farmers receive a grant as part of the European Common Agricultural Policy - after Brexit, it's unclear at present whether this will continue (Photo: Josh Kubale)

josh kubale

Hertfordshire is home to a large amount of farmland and modern practices that can be at odds with wildlife. Charlotte Hussey of the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust outlines a new partnership that aims to bring the wild back to the farm

For thousands of years, people have farmed in Hertfordshire and wildlife has taken advantage of these rich landscapes to flourish, away from busier urban areas. In modern times, however, we have seen a drive for maximisation, with an ever-increasing need to gain the best yield from the land. This drive for efficiency has meant that traditional, wildlife-friendly methods of farming have declined. There has been an increase in crop yields with modern crop varieties, improved machinery and agro-chemicals, but this has meant that some of the most beneficial areas for farmland animals are decreasing – areas such as flower-filled field margins and seed-filled stubbles. This in turn has meant less opportunities for wildlife to thrive on farmland.

The birds

There are 19 bird species in the UK that are dependent on farmland, unable to thrive in other habitats. The UK Farmland Bird Indicator monitors these species and can tell us a lot about our farmland and the general quality of the farmed environment.

A honeybee taking nectar from and thereby pollinating rapeseedA honeybee taking nectar from and thereby pollinating rapeseed

Reports show that there have been huge population declines in some species, such as the tree sparrow, which is now restricted to just one site in Hertfordshire. Corn bunting is now restricted to only chalk habitats and the turtle dove is almost extinct. Another seven farmland bird species have declined by more than 50 per cent since 1970, some by up to 87 per cent. There are some success stories, such as the jackdaw, which has increased its numbers by 136 per cent and the wood pigeon, up by 125 per cent.

A key habitat is hedgerows, which provide shelter and berries throughout the winter months to birds such as redwings and fieldfares, while wildflower-rich field margins encourage insects that provide further sources of food.

The bees

Corn bunting, one of 19 farmland dependent bird species in the UKCorn bunting, one of 19 farmland dependent bird species in the UK

There has been a large increase in general awareness around bees in the past few years and the public have realised just how important these little creatures are to our lives.

Seventy of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of food worldwide are pollinated by bees and the estimated value of insect pollination to crops due to increases in yield and quality of seeds and fruit is £600m. These figures prove that we need pollinators just as much as they need our farms.

Wildflower-rich field margins support our crop pollinators and allow whole ecosystems to thrive, while fields with poor crop productivity can be reverted to species-rich grassland – supporting bees as well as achieving government grant income.

Farming for wildlife

Farmers are the stewards of the majority of our local eco-systems and the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust works closely with them to ensure that farmland is managed in the best way for wildlife while still providing a living to those who work the land.

Here in Hertfordshire, we are lucky to have a lot of landowners who understand the importance of their land to local wildlife and we see a lot of fantastic work that goes into managing farmland to support many types of animals.

The Wildlife Trusts and Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) has just created a unique model for nature-friendly farming across 44,500 acres nationwide, as part of the new Jordans Farm Partnership, which aims to enhance the natural environment and support farming communities. This summer, eight progressive arable farms in Hertfordshire will embark on a new model for sustainable farming and will maintain nature-friendly corridors on farmland which, if placed end to end with the other 34 farms taking part around the country, would reach from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

To find out more about the partnership, visit wildlifetrusts.org/Jordans

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