This blog post originally appeared on Peter's 'Fresh from the Field' blog on 25th January 2016.
I have chatted before on this blog about the great work that the Selborne Landscape Partnership have been achieving, so it was a real boost to all those concerned to have a visit last week from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Liz Truss. She had heard all about these various farmer cluster groups, which have been formed around the country so that they can manage the countryside on a “landscape scale”, and specifically requested to come down to Hampshire and find out more.
We started off by meeting in local farmer Kate Faulkner’s kitchen, for a cup of coffee and an up-date on some of the activities that the group is achieving.
The highlight, amongst many different projects that are being started by the group, has to be the Harvest mouse story.
As Gilbert White, the naturalist writer who lived in Selborne, was the first person to identify the Harvest mouse as a separate species, makes this area the “home” of this delightful little mouse. There was only one old record locally in recent times (1999) for this species, and that was on a nature reserve, not out on the farmland where White would have found them.
"Lead farmer" William Woolmer explains how diverse the area is to Liz Truss,
while farmer Kate Faulkner holds the map
The farmers had not seen any for a long time either, so to all intents and purpose, this iconic little mouse had apparently been lost. White would undoubtedly have found that incredibly hard to believe, as it was such a common little mammal in his day.
Fast forward 18 months.
Volunteers, including the farmers themselves, have been busy surveying the 28 Km squares that surround the village and almost unbelievable, have located 472 Harvest mouse nests, showing that the species is still alive and well and actually, still fairly common!!
We then walked out onto the farm in pouring rain, which was a shame as we all got a good soaking! It says a lot about the minister though, as she wanted to see and talk about everything despite the weather and asked lots of questions, appearing to be genuinely fascinated about what the farmers were collectively achieving.
Liz Truss certainly appears to think that this landscape approach to managing the countryside is the way forward, and now needs to consider ways of rolling this scenario out over the whole country.
How refreshing that it is the farmers themselves who are guiding the way forward and that Government are taking note. Very inspirational!
A soggy group! From left to right: Nick Heasman (SDNP), farmers Kate Faulkner & William Woolmer, Me, Liz Truss, James Phillips and Hannah Thacker (NE) and Rob Nicholl (SDNP)
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