28/10/2015

Farmers passion for the countryside abounds!

This blog post originally appeared on Peter's 'Fresh from the Field' blog on 28th October 2015.

I have been involved with running a number of courses across the country over the last week or so, which sort of reminded me just how varied my role with the GWCT is!

The cluster of farmers that I helped bring together in the Sussex Downs, so that they could manage the downland that they farm in a more joined up and cohesive way, has gone from strength to strength. As a group they decided to apply for the new Natural England “facilitation fund”, which will enable them to fund someone to oversee and organise what they collectively do.

Enter Colin Hedley, a top notch local independent environmental consultant. He teamed up with the existing group who had already been working so well together, consisting of the farmers of course, ably represented up by whole-hearted and passionate estate manager Peter Knight, myself (GWCT), Sue Simpson (Natural England), Bruce Fowkes (RSPB) and Nigel James (South Downs National Park).

A thoroughly refreshing team to work with as we “all sing from the same hymn sheet” – ie: the practical delivery of integrated landscape conservation.

Arun to Adur farmers groupThe Arun to Adur farmers group - a very exciting project

To cut a long story short, the application Colin headed up was successful and the newly named “Arun to Adur” – (Abbreviated to A2A – and so named because it is the area between these two rivers) farmers group held its first meeting to discuss the future ways in which it will deliver the main targets, namely, to improve the conservation of soil, water and wildlife across the downs. (Plus much more besides!)

It is a fantastically enthusiastic group consisting of 24 farmers (which is already rising!) who farm and look after some 8299 hectares of the South Downs and I’m quite sure that with Colin’s leadership, the group will thrive. You will be hearing more about the A2A farmers group over the coming months.

The next stop was to help run a “Farmland bird event” in Oxfordshire, organised by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) adviser in the county Tim Clarke and we were also joined by RSPB adviser Kirsty Brannan. The morning event took place on Richard Matthew’s farm at Caswell, not far from Witney.

Richard is a good friend of mine and I have over the years seen him transform his farm into a top notch example of how to integrate conservation into good farming practice. Richard is also a keen rugby enthusiast, so once we had discussed the woes of the England team, we set all set off to look around his delightful farm.

Richard Matthew's farm in OxfordshireFarmers learning about birds at Richard Matthew's farm in Oxfordshire

Birds abounded! We saw Little Egret, Heron, Kingfisher, Yellowhammer, Linnet, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting, Fieldfare and Redwing, just to mention a few! We also saw the reason behind why these birds were in such numbers – lots of wonderful habitats of seed bearing crops grown especially for them, insect rich areas, managed water courses and permanent pasture amongst the arable stubbles. A most enjoyable way to spend a morning!!

Then onto Buckinghamshire for an event organised by Kings Seeds, a highly professional company that does not just sell conservation and shooting cover crops to land managers, but also goes to great lengths to emphasis best practice while growing them. The event was held at George Eaton’s Rectory farm, the recent winner of the famous Purdy award.

The Kings eventThe Kings event: To learn about conservation crops, there is no better way than to get in them!

There can be no farmer in the land that can match George for his enthusiasm of “all things countryside”! He is a true ambassador for the farming profession. So it was no surprise that we had a most enjoyable day hearing talks in the wonderful function room he has built. (So that groups ranging from us through to the local Brownies, can be educated in the ways of farming and conservation). This was then followed by a trip around the farm to look at and discuss top quality conservation crops.

So, do not let anyone tell you that there is not much happening out there on farms – because there is so much amazing stuff going on – it really is very heart-warming!

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