The Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, has visited a farm in Hampshire to see how Farmer Clusters are working together to deliver positive conservation at landscape scale.
Using a ‘bottom-up’ approach, these Farmer Clusters, under the guidance of a lead farmer, are trying to help wildlife on a landscape scale rather than single farms working alone. With government funding, and support and advice from Natural England (NE), the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) launched a pilot group of five Farmer Clusters in early 2012. Since then, the project has gone from strength to strength, now boasting 22 Clusters. Those that weren’t part of the original pilot group have set up voluntarily with no funding, showing just how much the project means to them.
The Environment Secretary joined staff from the GWCT, NE and the South Downs National Park Authority to visit just one of these new clusters, The Selborne Landscape Partnership, comprising 11 farmers and covering 10,000 acres of land.
The group discussed how the Partnership has been working to conserve harvest mice, barn owls, wildflowers and several butterfly species, including the brown hairstreak and the Duke of Burgundy. The Cluster are particularly proud of their harvest mice, which have been rediscovered on their land, 25 years after the last sighting. The finding is doubly special as it was in Selborne that harvest mice were first identified as a separate species, by the naturalist Gilbert White in 1767.
Peter Thompson, the GWCT’s Biodiversity Advisor, said: “It was great to have the chance to tell Liz Truss about all the exciting projects we are helping farmers achieve as part of the Selborne Landscape Partnership. She genuinely seemed to be really interested in this ‘bottom-up’ approach to delivering the conservation of soil, water and biodiversity and was very happy to trudge out in the pouring rain to look at harvest mice nests - that says a lot!”
Over 472 nests were found in 2014-2015 over 28 separate square kilometre sampling sites, and researchers hope that even more will be found as hedges are planted and wild strips are maintained around arable fields.
It is hoped that as other farmers see the effect these Clusters are having on biodiversity, they will be motivated to create their own Clusters. It is anticipated that these could then begin to join together to make Super-Clusters, which will have even greater impacts on conservation.
Kate Faulkner, one of the farmers in the Cluster, said: “We were delighted to welcome Liz Truss today and to show her some of the excellent results of the environmental work that the farmers in the Selborne Landscape Partnership are carrying out. All of this work is done alongside our regular day job of farming the land to produce the food this country eats. It demonstrates how well-planned environmental work can fit alongside conventional farming.”
Following the visit, Teresa Dent, GWCT Chief Executive, said: “Landscape-scale projects like this deliver extra value from existing farm environment initiatives. They bring a much deeper sense of ownership and commitment to conservation outcomes because farmers are making their own decisions about how to engineer their own environment landscape.”
Notes to editors
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – providing research-led conservation for a thriving countryside. The GWCT is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife since the 1930s. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats. We employ 22 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse.
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