Linking the Environmentally Friendly Farming Careers of Farmers to Their Effective Delivery of Wildlife Habitats Within the East of England
Previous social scientific research into agri-environment schemes (AESs) has tended to provide temporal 'snapshots' of farmer attitudes towards and interpretations of conservation. Evaluations of AESs, performed within the natural sciences, have concentrated on whether they have met their ecological objectives overall in the wider countryside. There has been a lack of interdisciplinary research that links explicitly the social dimensions of AES implementation with the ecological outcomes of this process and little exploration of how these dimensions develop and evolve over time. The aim of this interdisciplinary research was to explore the relationship between farmers' Environmentally Friendly Farming (EFF) careers and the wildlife habitats produced on their farms, where the broader concept of EFF includes AESs. The study area was in the East of England comprising the North West Norfolk, Breckland and East Anglian Chalk National Character Areas and was chosen to be an area of predominantly arable farming with relatively homogeneous soils, geology, landscape and climate.
The need to explore the development of farmers' environmental attitudes, knowledges and practices within AESs and EFF over time was addressed by adapting Goffman's concept of moral careers to investigate farmer EFF careers. Although the concept of moral careers has been used in other fields, it has not been applied previously in the field of farming and agri-environment schemes. A linking or 'paratactical' approach to interdisciplinarity was chosen, which allows the disciplines to operate side by side and where the research objectives link the objects of study: EFF careers and the delivery of wildlife habitats.
Farmers' EFF careers were explored through oral histories; face-to-face interviews with 43 farmers with an explicit temporal focus, which explored in detail the events and influences on the farmer that contributed to his environmental management of the farm over time. Ecological surveys of hedges, grass margins, Wild Bird Seed (WBS) plots and stubbles were performed using a Rapid Condition Assessment methodology adapted from previous evaluations of AESs, which measured the quality of the vegetation structure and species composition of each habitat. A quantitative statistical analysis was then used as the linking methodology to test the null hypothesis that there is no difference in the quality of wildlife habitats between the different EFF Careers.
Five EFF careers were identified: the Self Directed career, the Conservation at the Margin career, the Conservation Wage career and the Conservation Opportunity career, plus the Conservation for Shooting career which is a parallel career. The ecological surveys showed that whilst the farmers often fell short of the quality indicators set by this research, they were largely compliant with the lesser requirements of the AES schemes. The overall sense of the results shows that there is no statistically significant difference in the quality of hedges, margins, WBS and stubbles between farmers in different EFF careers and shows that there is no simple relationship between a farmer's engagement with AESs and the wildlife habitats they create on the ground.
The existing policy arrangements for the English AESs are set to change in 2015 and as this research sets out the relationships between the EFF careers and the current AESs it can contribute to an understanding of the issues faced by Natural England and farmers when transitioning to the new 'greening' arrangements. This research has also provided some indications for initiating and developing farmers' involvement with AESs, including the importance of advisors on farmers' career progression, supporting the findings of other research.