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10510_0 Nature Friendly Food and Farming Motion
10510

The Nature Friendly Farming Network has worked with partners across the country to develop a the first ever Nature Friendly Food and Farming Motion. The motion can be passed at the parish, county or unitary council level and seeks to champion local supply chains, nature friendly businesses, nature based solutions and nature friendly farmers across England, Wales, Scotland and Norther Ireland. We are asking councils to support this motion, and commit to transforming nature friendly ideals into practices.  

Find the motion here.

10498_1 Nearing the end but how much closer? Westminster Update
10498

As England enters Lockdown 2.0 and each of us face varying levels of restrictions across the UK, it feels like progress with farming policy seems to be ‘locking down’ a bit too. The Agriculture Bill, which has taken months to get to this stage, is currently in its final throes, bouncing back and forth between the House of Commons and House of Lords in a process known as ‘ping pong’.

Despite strong calls from the NFFN and those across the environmental and farming communities, the Government has continued to resist our collective pressure to enshrine our important and internationally leading food standards into law. Whilst we welcome the concession regarding the Trade and Agriculture Commission, announced over the weekend, which will put it on a statutory footing (something NFFN has long called for), we continue to be disappointed that the Government has stopped here. Read Martin Lines commenting on this latest development with the Agriculture Bill in Farming UK here.

As we come to a close with the Agriculture Bill, our focus is now firmly on the policy development of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs), to ensure that the bold ambitions promised by the Government for farming reform are delivered and not lost in the process. This will ultimately provide the roadmap and outline for the future of farming in the UK and we want to make sure that we get this right. Farmers need clarity and certainty on how this support will be provided, with a proper framework developed in cooperation with them, and we seriously hope that the Government will work with us collaboratively to deliver this. Our door is always open, and we are always delighted to share our members’ experiences of the effectiveness of nature-friendly farming with elected officials and others.

We also welcome the return of the Environment Bill to the House of Commons this week, which has been delayed for far too long. It is vital that the Environmental Bill raises our current environmental baseline for land management, to ensure the long-term success of farming and the recovery of the environment and wildlife. Farmers across the UK want to see a strong, independent, regulator to enforce these baseline standards. Now is the opportunity for the Government to do what is right, and there is no time to waste.

If the Government is serious about its environmental commitments and safeguarding UK farming, then we need the Agriculture, Trade and Environment Bills to all work together. This was the ambition we were promised but has sadly been considerably lacking to date.

10494_2 NFFN and Possible Hedge Fund
10494
Our ‘Hedge Fund’ project running in conjunction with the charity ‘Possible’ will get underway this winter and plans to run until early 2022. The project links public and farmers to improve hedgerows and lock up carbon by encouraging communities in planting hedges on NFFN farms around England.
We already have had some members sign up to provide venues but if you would like to get involved do get in contact with Alison at alison.rickett@nffn.org.uk
For more information click here.
10481_3 NRFC
10481

It’s been a busy autumn for some of our farmer NFFN members who gave their time to deliver presentations in the NFFN sessions at the first virtual Northern Real Farming Conference (NFRC) in October. It was great to see people getting involved in our sessions on Net Zero, Nature As A Stakeholder, NFFN farmer case studies and farm tours and also coming to talk to us at the ‘meet the sponsor’ lunchtime chats.

If you would like to watch any of the NFFN presentations or any of the other great presentations from across the 10 days of the NFRC, go to https://bit.ly/32aLrAG
10479_4 Scottish Suckler Beef Climate Scheme Report
10479

The Scottish Suckler Beef Climate Scheme report has been published and the NFFN Scottish Steering Group commend the authors on their willingness to address the climate change issue head-on and their proposed direction of travel, which aligns with that of the NFFN. A lot of the progressive recommendations for change and calls for practical support from ScotGov will help nature friendly farming, and whilst we are disappointed that biodiversity enhancement has been declared a secondary aim of the SBCS we will continue to campaign for recognition by ScotGov that the ecological crisis deserves the same level of attention and support as has been given to the climate crisis in the report.

10475_5 Have your say in creating more nature friendly supply chains in NI
10475

Helen Keys and Charlie Mallon, both members of the NFFN farm 50 acres near Cookstown in county Tyrone.  The farm was traditionally dairy and then a suckler herd but in the last few years they have diversified into flax, potatoes, oats and hemp but it wasn’t an easy journey.

 

We wanted to be more sustainable – both financially and environmentally.  It was such hard work because we knew nothing except cattle and growing grass.  We were going to conferences, talking to other farmers, joining online forums, doing training courses, reading books, it was exhausting and the variety of options was a bit overwhelming.    I kept thinking we just need someone to look at the farm, tell us what crops would suit and what might generate some income.’

 

Helen got a crop specialist and a software developer together to kick some ideas around.  They came up with a concept which they pitched to Techstart to secure a Proof of Concept grant.  The first version will be an online platform where a farmer can input some basic information like location, cropping history, available machinery, that will be assessed against a list of produce that local restaurants want to buy.  The farmer will then receive some suggestions for crops that suit the situation and also have some market demand.  Farmers can list what they have planted so if the demand is met those crops will no longer be recommended to reduce the risk of gluts.

 

‘Restaurants are suffering right now but we need to keep innovating and building for the future.  Projects like this take time and we’ll be prepared to adapt to whatever the situation is when we launch next year.’

 

The platform will be piloted early next year and the team are looking for input from local farmers and restaurants to help with the design and the first pilot.  Click here to share your thoughts and get involved in the pilot.

10473_6 Northern Ireland Climate Bill
10473
25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

A Climate Change bill has been tabled to the Northern Ireland Assembly with a target to reach Net Zero emissions by 2045. The Bill has been drafted by legal experts, scientists, academics and environmental organisations and is being taken forward as a private members Bill with support from a number of parties within the Executive. This represents a landmark moment for climate action in Northern Ireland and will help ensure that we make a meaningful contribution to addressing climate change. The NFFN are supportive of the Bill and will be working with others to ensure that it helps all farmers transition to nature friendly practises which benefit nature, climate and the environment.

9218_7 FoE National Tree Summit
9218

Friends of the Earth trees campaign are holding our first National Tree Summit on 1 December 2020. The free event will be available online via Zoom, from 9:30am to 17.15.

 

The event features a full day of talks and panel discussions with insights from leaders, experts, community groups and government. Hear from Forestry Minister Zac Goldsmith on DEFRA’s England Tree Strategy; the Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change Lord Deben on the importance of trees to meet the UK’s net zero target; Chief Executive of the Woodland Trust, Darren Moorcroft on the role of native woodland in meeting tree targets and cutting carbon and Rewilding Britain’s Rebecca Wrigley on natural regeneration, plus many more.

 

Two speakers will focus on the role of agroforestry and the opportunities it represents for farmers:

Helen Browning, Chief Executive, The Soil Association: Agroforestry – its capacity to deliver a win/win for farmers and the planet

Stephen Briggs, farmer and agroforester: The launch of the Defra ELM agroforestry tests and trials pilot

 

A full agenda and more information will be available on the Tree Summit webpage closer to the date of the event. 

You can register for free tickets here.

9200_8 NFFN Photography Competition
9200

NFFN have launched their search for the best nature friendly farming photos for our 2022 calendar.

Our UK farmer steering group chairs will select a winning image each month, so grab you phone or camera and get snapping!

Nature friendly farmers across the UK have much to be proud of and we want you to share your favourite, farming, farm wildlife and landscape images with us so we can help spread the word that farming with nature can go hand in hand.

In addition to our 2022 calendar we may also use entries on social media and e-newsletters to promote the fantastic work nature friendly farmers are doing for farming, nature and the environment. Photographs will be credited.

Please email your entries, which can be landscape or portrait orientation, to info@nffn.org.uk and tell us which farm you took the photo on and where it is in the UK.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

Many congratulations to our winners so far:

August: Julia Pigott, Walney Nature Reserve, Cumbria

 

September: Helen Dale The Good Life Meat Co
October: Michael Mearns Achpopuli Farm, Abriachan, Inverness, Scotland
9059_9 New Team Member: Nikki Yoxall
9059

We’re delighted to announce we have appointed a new member to our team, Nikki Yoxall. Nikki will be primarily working with our NFFN Scotland farmer steering group, helping our farmers have a stronger voice in policy discussions and supporting you in getting more from being a NFFN member in Scotland.

Nikki has a background in education where she has worked for the last 12 years, including as Head of Learning for Landbased Studies, and currently still holds a role at a University of the Highlands and Islands Academic Partner Institution.

She is currently undertaking an MSc in Sustainable Food and Natural Resources, and has interests in Holistic Management, agroforestry, native breed cattle and connecting folk with their food through local food networks.

With her husband, Nikki runs Grampian Graziers, using agroecological principles to manage farm ecosystems whilst producing beef from rare and native breed cattle in the North East of Scotland. This has been a steep learning curve for them both, but working with local landowners to manage conservation areas, regenerate woodland and implement mob grazing they have been able to see the restorative power of cattle in both farmed and wild landscapes.

Nikki also works with the PFLA to support the links between academic research and knowledge exchange and PFLA farmers and members, and is passionate about promoting research outputs with farmers and supporters of nature friendly farming.

9047_10 Nature Means Business – Our Latest NFFN Report
9047

NFFN have published their latest report: Nature Means Business: Establishing the Balance Between Food Production and Improving Nature which you can view here.

This report brings together evidence and farmer stories that present the business case for farming in harmony with nature. We urge policy makers and the farming industry to use this evidence to help them make real commitments and take practical actions to support sustainable, climate and nature friendly agriculture.

This evidence is backed up by personal stories from five nature-friendly farmers across the UK, who highlight the nature-friendly changes they have made to their farms and how this has made their businesses more resilient and profitable.

9040_11 Act Now! Last Chance to Enshrine Our Standards in UK Law
9040

Monday 12th will see MPs begin to debate the Agriculture Bill for the final time, as they either back or reject important amendments on trade and standards secured in the House of Lords.

 

The Agriculture Bill is a landmark piece of legislation, designed to set the foundations for our future funding framework for farmers and will provide parliamentarians with one of the most important opportunities in recent times to help the UK transition towards a more resilient, nature-friendly food and farming system.

 

Despite frequent commitments by Ministers to “protecting our high standards” and a Conservative Party manifesto promise that ‘in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards’ the Government continues to resist growing calls to enshrine our important food, environmental and animal welfare standards into law.

 

Because of our values and collective experience, the NFFN believes that the Agriculture Bill and associated funding mechanisms must help farmers to produce safe, healthy food at the same time as helping our soil, landscapes, rivers and wildlife to recover and flourish, providing:

 

  1. Public money for public goods secured long-term, not undermined by additional clauses on food production but focused on supporting nature-friendly farming.
  2. High environmental standards for trade deals, enshrined in law, so that UK farmers are not undercut by low-quality, cheap imports and our carbon footprint is not exported.
  3. Strong environmental regulations to raise current nature and climate standards on all farms.
  4. Long-term funding and certainty so farmers are properly rewarded for environmental goods now and into the future.

The NFFN has worked tirelessly throughout the consideration of this Bill to encourage MPs and Peers to back nature-friendly farming. We know that the shift towards a nature-friendly farming approach is not just good for wildlife but is key to the long-term survival of farming, delivering broader benefits to the public, including flood protection, climate change mitigation, improved water and air quality, and access to thriving natural landscapes.

 

Public money for public goods will support farmers to deliver all these benefits and produce sustainable food into the future but we must have an Agriculture Bill that is fit for purpose.

 

As such, please join us in urgently contacting your MP and asking them to back the Lords amendments when they debate the Agriculture Bill next week. You can find their details here.

You can use this template letter and/or tweet them using:

Next week the #AgricultureBill returns to the House of Commons for its final stage before becoming law.

(insert MP name) will you vote to enshrine our vital food, environment, and animal welfare trade standards into law?

#NatureFriendlyFarming #SaveOurStandards #AgriBill

 

As always, adding your own words, a photo or even a video, outlining your personal experience and thoughts, will go a long way to making your voice heard. We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

 

Thank you!

NFFN

8954_12 Join the Northern Real Farming Conference 2020
8954
NFFN are proud to be sponsoring the Northern Real Farming Conference, taking place online from Sept 28th to 10th Oct 2020. We are also hosting five great sessions and we hope to see you there.
The full Northern Real Farming Conference 2020 programme is now live: https://www.northernrealfarming.org/schedule/
Hear from over 60 farmers from the North of England and Scotland along with researchers and practitioners about how they are putting new models of farming into practice.
The programme includes sessions on business models, nature friendly farming, upland farming, cooperative and community supported agriculture, horticulture, public good, procurement, ELMS, water management, agroforestry, policy and more, along with social spaces and physically-distanced walks.
Join the network: share your experiences and network with other farmers, researchers and colleagues from the North of England and Scotland.
Follow us for updates:
8823_13 Scottish Agriculture Bill and Future Farm Policies
8823

The Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill otherwise known as the “Scottish Agriculture Bill” has just been passed by the Scottish Parliament following its final Stage 3 debate. Why does this matter and what are the implications for farmers, farming and the environment in Scotland?

This Bill sets out to deliver the Scottish Government’s plans for a period of transition from 2021-2024 creating, amongst other things, powers to bring forward legislation to simplify or improve the European Union (EU) Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post Brexit. The Bill ensures that on exit day, Scottish Ministers have the powers to provide financial support to farmers over the next few years. Some of this funding is of direct benefit to biodiversity, climate and the wider environment.

NFFN Scotland supported the principles and intention of this Bill but felt that Scottish Government should have gone further. Working with Scottish Environment LINK, the Scottish Food Coalition, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates we wrote to Fergus Ewing Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity pressing for amendments to the bill. Specifically, we called for a Purpose Clause to be inserted that ensured any changes made were for one or more specific purposes including contributing to reaching net zero emissions by 2045, to halt the loss of biodiversity, facilitating local supply chains, encouraging innovation and resilience in agriculture. Disappointingly, despite a substantial debate on this point and support of Labour, Conservative and Green parties MSP’s we were unable to persuade the Liberal Democrats and SNP to back the amendment, so it did not pass into law. There was however another important amendment which did pass in relation to new agricultural policy which requires that Scottish Ministers must lay out in a report before the Parliament on progress towards establishing a new Scottish agricultural policy and do so no later than 31 December 2024. This report must include policies and proposals as to the sustainability of Scottish agriculture and its resilience to climate change and the improvement of productivity of Scottish agriculture, amongst other things. It must also outline any legislation that will be required to implement the policies and proposals and a timeline of when that legislation will be introduced

Looking forward NFFN Scotland will be looking to engage with all the political parties in the lead up to Scottish Parliamentary elections and beyond to ensure that there is a long-term vision for Scottish rural development policies which support Scottish agriculture at the same time putting it on a path to net zero by 2045, addressing the biodiversity crisis and building resilience and profitability and supports the farmers and crofters who need it most.

8821_14 Back In Action: Parliamentary Update
8821
After a fairly lengthy and gruelling seven days of debate, during the Committee Stage of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords, both Houses of Parliament broke for the summer recess at the end of July. We continued to work closely with a number of supportive Peers on our key asks for the Bill and are chomping at the bit now that Parliament has returned, to see this Bill deliver for nature-friendly farmers!
Committee Stage in the House of Lords was a chance for Peers to speak in support of their amendments, and those of colleagues, raising important issues of concern and requesting clarifications from the government. We were pleased to see so many Peers speaking in support of nature-friendly farming, including the Earl of Caithness who tabled an amendment specifically in support of our work! You can catch up with the debate via Hansard here.
Many of you will have also noted the creation of a Trade and Agriculture Commission recently, designed to ‘advise the government to ensure new trade policies secure export opportunities for UK farmers and uphold high standards.’ Whilst the NFFN is supportive of steps to promote and protect our domestic high-standards, we are concerned about the nature of this commission – both that it is time limited and that its recommendations would be advisory only, amongst other weaknesses.
The NFFN will continue to press for parliamentarians to enshrine high environmental and welfare trade standards in law – the only way to properly protect them – but we would also ask that any associated bodies, such as this commission, also have sufficient powers and responsibilities to make and enact change. We continue to call for strong environmental standards and certainty for long-term funding, so that farmers are properly supported and rewarded for their hard work.
Now that Parliament has returned, we will be calling on Peers to back amendments aimed at improving the Agriculture Bill and keep an eye out for our next campaigns – which will give you the chance to share your voice with your elected representatives, when this Bill returns to the House of Commons later this month.
As always, if you are speaking with your local representatives or have a fantastic case study to share, please do get in touch with me at robert.lingard@nffn.org.uk as we’d love to hear from you!
8789_15 Feeding the Nation: How Nature Friendly Farmers are Responding to Covid-19
8789

See our full report on NFFN and the Covid-19 crisis here.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 we have seen many challenges across society, and farmers are no exception. There are farmers with food to sell, but many of the usual supply chains are closed. There are farmers with produce to harvest, but a lack of workers to make this happen. We urgently need to support farmers to connect with the public, right across the country, so they can sell their produce without this food going to waste.

Many Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) farmers are changing the way they supply the food they produce, and are marketing directly to the public, through local supply chains or online. What hasn’t changed though is their commitment to our natural environment and farming, nor their determination to provide the food we all need. We are proud to support them during this challenging time.

A sustainable food supply chain in the UK has never been more crucial to help farmers provide healthy and sustainable food, avoid food waste and protect wildlife and the environment. We urge you to support your local nature friendly farmers during this crisis and beyond. Find out how here.

8786_16 Farming for our future: The nature friendly climate solution we urgently need
8786

NFFN have launched their latest report “Farming For Our Future: The Nature Friendly Climate Change Solution We Urgently Need

It demonstrates that farmers across the UK need urgent support to respond to the climate emergency and transition to sustainable farming system that will deliver on long-term food security and protect biodiversity and the environment.

Our report, together with the NFFN practical guide to help achieve net-zero carbon targets, show the potential for a sustainable farming system in the UK

Food and farming needs to change on a large scale to support a sustainable future for us all.

Now is the time for nature friendly farming to become mainstream.

Join us now and be part of the solution.

8782_17 Farm Case Study: Simon Best
8782

Simon Best farms at Acton House Farm near Poyntzpass in County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

His farm is 1,200 acres of predominantly arable land, including an Aberdeen Angus beef herd and green waste composting facility. Simon shares his farming story with us here.

8779_18 Farm Case Study: Michael Clarke
8779

Michael and his wife Shirley own Williamwood, a 300 acre grassland farm. Michael share his farming journey with us here.

8775_19 Farm Case Study: Joel Kerr
8775

Joel Kerr farms at Tyghan Farm, a 32-hectare organic poultry farm. He produces free range organic chickens, alongside small herds of native breed Shorthorn cattle and Dorset horn sheep, which he sells for meat directly to farmers markets. You can read Joel’s farming case study here.

8771_20 Farm Case Study: Patrick Barker
8771

Patrick Barker farms a 550 ha arable farm in North Suffolk. The farm is a family-owned partnership, with Patrick and his cousin Brian running the farming and environmental contracting business. Situated on clay soil, the farm grows cereals, spring linseed, spring beans and herbage grass seed. Patrick shares with us his farming story here.

8744_21 NFFN ELMS Consultation Response
8744

Many thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to our ELMS survey, we used your feedback in our response to the Defra consultation. You can view our submission here.

8735_22 Farming for nature pays off for Wimpole
8735

Nature and soil health are flourishing at the National Trust’s Wimpole Home Farm near Cambridge according to the results of a full ‘health-check’ into its biodiversity, carbon levels and levels of public accessibility.

The results, show increases in the numbers of breeding pairs of rare farmland birds, invertebrates and how the land is a significant sequester of carbon.

The organic farm has been focusing on nature friendly, sustainable farming methods for the past 12 years to reflect the conservation charity’s goals for farming models which are good for nature, deliver public benefit and which are profitable.

Credit: Nick Upton

Nationally, numbers of farmland birds have declined by 54 per cent since 1970, the distribution of bees and hoverflies declined by 31 per cent between 2009 and 2014 and it is estimated that soil degradation in England and Wales costs the economy £1.2 billion a year.

The 589 hectare mixed livestock and arable farm, conducted in-depth surveys over two years into farmland birds, invertebrates and soil health.

 

 

Key results included:

  • the doubling in numbers of breeding pairs of rare skylarks and linnets in six years which are good indicators of a healthy ecosystem
  • a 38 per cent increase in invertebrate numbers over 13 years to include the recording of 95 rare and protected species, vital for pollinating crops and preying on pests
  • a total carbon balance of -2,260 tonnes of CO2 per year achieved through the amount of organic matter in the soil which soaks up carbon, the number of trees and grown out hedges

 

As for public goods, in terms of access for the public, Wimpole also has over 40km of public rights of way and permissive paths which are enjoyed by over 350,000 visitors a year.

As a business, the farm is also returning a healthy profit.

Last year, production levels across 369 hectares of the arable farm reached impressive levels for an organic farming system with last year’s harvests resulting in 142 tonnes of wheat – enough to make 200,000 loaves of bread, or over four million scones – 123 tonnes of organic barley – equivalent to what’s needed to make nearly 1.5million pints of beer and 126 tonnes of organic oats – equivalent to over 2.5 million bowls of porridge.

 

For 2019, this resulted in £294,617 income, £117,588 profit for the farm (including subsidy payments).

 

Callum Weir farm manager at Wimpole said: “Many of the increases we recorded in the surveys are down to the combination of organic farming methods in the fields and the mosaic of margins, hedges and habitats that surround each field.

That is not to say that organic farming is the only way to farm with nature. There are great examples of farmers across the UK who aren’t organic, but are still delivering massive benefits to the environment. Like many farmers, we dedicate areas of Wimpole to help biodiversity. For example, we sow a variety of plants including phacelia which has purpley blue flowers, clover and sainfoin, with its bright pink flowers which flower from early April right through to October. These attract and support pollinators and insects which have a vital role in the ecosystem.

The survey results are vital to understanding how our holistic approach to farming at Wimpole is working. We want to farm sustainably at the same time as being a truly viable business and it’s fantastic to see how nature friendly farming and a profitable farm business, can go hand in hand.”

 

Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust told us: “Sustainable, productive and profitable farming is underpinned by a healthy environment.

Coronavirus has shown how important it is to have a resilient food and farming system. We know that climate change and sustainability pose the greatest threats to food security, as this year’s flooding and now drought have shown.

The Agriculture Bill – and the principle of public money for public goods at its heart – is an opportunity to deliver this.

We have taken the risks, experimented and want to share our learnings with others. At Wimpole we’ve had to overcome particular challenges such as soil degradation, decreasing returns from farming and declines in farmland wildlife.

With a focus on sustainable land management, wildlife and soil health can recover quicker than we might think.

The story at Wimpole paints one of hope and optimism – and the Government’s forthcoming ‘environmental land management scheme’ will be crucial to replicating this across the farming industry, as will the new Agriculture Bill in prioritising government support for this scheme. Together, these two mechanisms will ensure all farms have a sustainable future which will be good for the environment, good for farm businesses and good for people.

It’s vital the Agriculture Bill its ambition and key public goods principles aren’t weakened. We also mustn’t see progress at home on sustainability undermined by food imports that don’t meet our standards: the Bill should therefore be amended to provide safeguards against this.”

 

Survey results in detail

To fully understand the impact of 12 years of organic farming on the environment, the team carried out surveys into rare farmland birds, invertebrates and conducted an in-depth study into carbon sequestration.

 

Key findings from the farmland bird survey conducted across half the farm revealed that since 2013:

  • Numbers of rare skylarks have increased by 75 per cent, from 12 to 21 pairs
  • Number of rare linnets have doubled from three to seven pairs
  • Wimpole is one of the most important populations of the rare corn bunting in Cambridgeshire with between five and eight pairs breeding each year.
  • The farm provides winter feeding habitat for at least nine rare bird species – grey partridge, lapwing, linnet, skylark, starling, yellowhammer, woodcock, hen harrier, fieldfare

A total of 1,145 species were recorded in the invertebrates survey, equating to an increase of 38 per cent in the number of species between 2003 and 2019.

This included 95 rare species with formal conservation status including Bombus Ruderatus – the large garden bumblebee and Tyria Jacobaeae – the cinnabar moth. 75 species of bee, 49 species of wasps, 46 species of hoverflies and 22 types of butterflies were recorded. Other key results from last year included:

  • A 150 per cent increase in Hymonptera (wasps, bees, ants)
  • A 190 per cent increase in the number of rare invertebrate species including the nationally scarce (NS) Tumbling Flower Beeting (Mordellistena variegate), the small heath butterfly (high on the Butterfly Conservation Priority List) and the (NS) Slender-horned Leatherback
  • A 30 per cent increase in the number of butterfly species including the silver washed fritillary and marbled white.
  • The organic field margins support on average 30 per cent more invertebrates then conventional field margins.

Callum continued: “We were so pleased by the results of the study. It was great to see that our margins, so rich in wildlife, bordering productive farmland. This gave me real hope that with the right support, farmers can help address biodiversity losses and play our part with tackling the climate crisis.”

 

The team used the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit, a recognised carbon measure by the farming industry, to conduct a full carbon analysis across the whole estate to include the farmland, parkland and woodland.

 

Thanks to the team’s holistic approach to farming on the estate, incorporating soil management, habitats and tree planting/woodland management, the land is a significant sequester of carbon, with a total carbon balance of -2,260 tonnes of CO2 per year.

 

Callum explains: “When you think that an economy class return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, this is really significant.”

Over the last 12 years, by far the biggest sequester of carbon is the increase in soil organic matter (SOM).

This has been achieved by applying agroecological principles to the arable farmland which includes reducing cultivation, cover cropping, integrating livestock, utilising habitats and stewardship and embracing technology.

Trees were a significant sequester or carbon on the estate, however the main belts and blocks of woodlands on the estate are reaching maturity and will soon stop sequestering carbon (but these old trees remain very valuable to biodiversity). However, we’ve addressed this by planting 1,000 parkland trees over the past 10 years which will help with carbon capture and biodiversity.

We recognise that our livestock are a large emitter of carbon. But, they are the perfect tool to manage our Grade 1 listed parkland and the traditional hay meadows.

If we were to plough up the parkland and convert it to arable, this would release 50,000 tonnes of CO2e from this carbon sink – equivalent to 100,000 return flights to New York City (for individual people or 416 full 747 aeroplanes). This demonstrates the value of livestock in the carbon cycle, and the benefits of grass fed meat. If meat is produced in the right way and consumed in the right amounts, it can be sustainable.”

 

8733_23 Ready for Recess
8733

Ready for Recess

After a fairly lengthy and gruelling seven days of debate, during the Committee Stage of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords, both Houses of Parliament broke for the summer recess at the end of July.

Committee Stage in the House of Lords is a chance for Peers to speak in support of their amendments, and those of colleagues, raising important issues of concern and requesting clarifications from the government. We were pleased to see so many Peers speaking in support of nature-friendly farming, including the Earl of Caithness who tabled an amendment specifically in support of our work! You can catch up with the debate via Hansard here.

Many of you will have noted the creation of a Trade and Agriculture Commission recently, designed to ‘advise the government to ensure new trade policies secure export opportunities for UK farmers and uphold high standards.’ Whilst the NFFN is supportive of steps to promote and protect our domestic high-standards, we are concerned about the nature of this commission – both that it is time limited and that its recommendations would be advisory only, amongst other things.

The NFFN will continue to press for parliamentarians to enshrine high environmental and welfare trade standards in law – the only way to properly protect them – but we would also ask that any associated bodies, such as this commission, also have sufficient powers and responsibilities to make and enact change.

Indeed, whilst Parliament is not currently sitting, our work continues, with engagement with MPs and Peers to discuss our asks for these key pieces of legislation and associated bodies. We continue to call for strong environmental standards and certainty for long-term funding, so that farmers are properly supported and rewarded for their hard work. We will be setting out our further asks shortly and keep an eye out for our next campaigns.

As always, if you are speaking with your local representatives or have a fantastic case study to share, please do get in touch with me at Robert.lingard@nffn.org.uk as I’d love to hear from you!

8728_24 New Team Member: Alison Rickett
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We are very excited to announce that we have recently recruited Alison Rickett to our NFFN support team! Alison will be primarily working to support our NFFN England farmer steering group, helping our farmers have a stronger voice in policy discussions across the UK and support you in getting more from being a NFFN member.

From growing up on the family tenanted farm, Alison has dedicated her 30 + years career to the farming industry. After exploring different roles, she specialised in running a farmer led training group, qualified as a trainer and facilitator, and took this onto a wider remit working for the National Trust as their National Skills and Training adviser.

In 2009, she started her own consultancy, working not only as trainer but also in national project management roles of Fresh Start Business academies and the Bright Crop career initiative. She moved on to focus on farm businesses and farm business models and helping new entrants from all backgrounds and ages to get started in or develop their farming businesses. This was balanced with working with farming succession and co-producing the first handbook (Using Land to unlock business innovation) around joint ventures. Latterly, as the managing director of Fresh Start Land Enterprise Centre CIC, she created and set up the first land matching service for England in 2016.

As a consultant she has focused on many nature and conservation based projects developing bespoke programmes for clients across the UK and delivering supporting advice. All of her work involves engaging with an exceptionally wide range of farmers, staff, and farming organisations at regional and national level. She Is a member of TRIG (Tenancy Reform Industry Group) and the EU Focus Group on New Entrants. In recent years, she has extended her writing of related articles and been an editor on land and conservation based publications and contributor to research papers and works closely with the James Hutton Institute as a network facilitator in the UK and as part of the European Newbie project.

Her passion throughout her work is capturing the wonderful skills and knowledge of the UK farmers and supporting organisations and sharing this with others in sustainable farming projects and policy. Alison is delighted to now be working with NFFN as their Sustainable Farming Officer for England at such a crucial stage in UK agriculture.

To contact Alison please email Alison.rickett@nffn.org.uk

8720_25 NFFN NI Webinars
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Why nature means business; How Food & farming can deliver a green recovery in Northern Ireland

How we farm is vital to nature’s recovery, and our own. In the Nature Friendly Farming Network’s recent agriculture webinars in partnership with RSPBNI, a host of industry experts demonstrated how we can reform our food and farming system to benefit both people and the planet. For anyone who missed the event, this is what you need to know.

 

  • Sustainable land management is vital for more than just food production.

Food, farming and the environment have found themselves firmly in the spotlight due to the Covid-19 crisis. We don’t have to look too far back to remember the empty supermarket shelves as the initial panic from the pandemic impacted our food supply chains. Thoughts of food security and building greater resilience in our food and farming systems have subsequently come to the forefront of our minds. Similarly, lockdown demonstrated the importance of the environment to our health, wellbeing and future prosperity. Many of us found solace in being able to engage with nature as other aspects of our lives ground to a standstill. This experience has highlighted a growing appetite for change, with widespread calls for a green recovery as we continue to emerge from the pandemic.

 

  • Future farming and land use policies are key to enabling a green recovery

Farming and land management has a vital role to play in the restoration of nature, storing and sequestering carbon, providing cleaner water, air and soil health all vital services that we desperately need. But previous policies have failed to support farming to deliver these ambitions and have been a contributing factor in widespread environmental decline. New policies are needed to help deliver a transition towards more sustainable nature friendly farming, to allow farmers to farm with nature rather than against it.

 

  • An investment in nature friendly farming is an essential investment for our future

Our long-term food security and wider prosperity is dependent upon a thriving natural environment and stable climate. Over recent years, more intensive agriculture has led to a decline in the health of our soil, air and water quality, and variety of plant and animal life. Our expert panellists, including members Simon Best and Charlie Cole of the NFFN Northern Ireland Steering Group, demonstrated how long-term investment, alongside the right policies to reward sustainable farming practises, can provide solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing us today; all whilst delivering a more profitable future for the farming sector. Click to watch the webinar highlights now!

 

  • Farming with nature in mind makes good business sense

Speakers highlighted how incorporating the needs of nature into farm business practises can benefit a farm’s bottom line in tandem with improving the environment. For example, Chris Clark author of the recent Less is More Report and Chair of the Network in England spoke of how reducing a farm’s output so that it matches the natural carrying capacity of the land can help significantly reduce business costs at the same time as improving the condition of the natural assets on which all farm businesses depend. Matt Rayment an agricultural economist spoke of how future support schemes can help incentivise good practise and adequately pay farmers for their role in delivering a green recovery. Click here to watch the webinar highlights.

 

As the Assembly returns in the autumn these are the messages we will be championing as we move towards the development of bespoke agriculture and land use policies in Northern Ireland. Such policies must help deliver Nature Friendly Farming across the country.

8717_26 NFFN Wales at Green Recovery Wales Festival
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NFFN Wales farmers took part in numerous live discussions, webinars and videos at Green Recovery Wales – a virtual festival of farming, food and nature held between 20th and 23rd July. Click on the links below to hear what our nature friendly farmers had to say!

 

  • NFFN Wales Steering Group farmer Teleri Fielden took part in a live panel event (Welsh language session) which looked at how agriculture can help create a better future for nature and the environment, the Welsh language and culture, food security and the rural economy.
  • Teleri also produced this excellent video from the farm in North Wales, outlining what nature-friendly farming and eating less but better meat means for Wales.
  • Polly Davies, Gerald Miles, Sam Kenyon and Emma Douglas took part in a Farm to Fork Session offering insight into their farm to fork initiatives and the importance of nature friendly farming.
  • Join Rhys Evans as he takes a look at some of the different habitats and wildlife on the family farm in Meirionnydd – from the mountain to the meadows.
  • Join Chris Clark (NFFN England Chair) and Gethin Owen (NFFN Wales Steering Group member) for this excellent webinar to learn more about how the Less is More approach can help achieve a more profitable, resilient business model for farming alongside a thriving natural environment.
  • Hilary Kehoe (NFFN Wales Chair) and Emma Douglas delivered a great Conservation Grazing Webinar – full of useful advice, hints and tips.

The full programme of events can be found here

 

NFFN Cymru and a Green Recovery: How Farming can be the Solution

Nature friendly farming can help tackle the climate and ecological crises, support vibrant rural communities and economies, produce plentiful healthy sustainable food and improve public health.   In order to help achieve this we urge all political parties to commit to the following 6 key asks…click here to find out more

8654_27 Farm Case Study: David Butler
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NFFN farmer David Butler tells us how and why he farms with nature and shares his thoughts on the future of farming.

Farm Case Study: David Butler

8627_28 NFFN Cymru and a Green Recovery: How Farming can be the Solution
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The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of our dysfunctional relationship with nature, environment and our food with studies linking the disease to the collapse of ecosystems and wildlife destruction. We need to rethink how we approach and value food, nature, the environment and our economy.   It’s vital that we ensure a Green Recovery to build back better after the Covid-19 crisis.

One thing is certain, nature friendly farming has huge role to play in securing a Green Recovery. Nature friendly farming can help tackle the climate and ecological crises, support vibrant rural communities and economies, produce plentiful healthy sustainable food and improve public health.   In order to help achieve this we urge all political parties to commit to the following 6 key asks:

  1. Maintain and redirect payments towards mainstreaming nature friendly farming
  2. Commit to zero carbon agriculture by 2040
  3. Maintain strong environmental and animal welfare standards
  4. Build markets for nature friendly farming products
  5. Invest in local food systems
  6. Educate on food, farming and nature

Farmers should be better supported and rewarded for the good work we do for nature and the environment. A sufficiently funded future agricultural policy has huge play to play here, and can help reverse wildlife declines whilst creating a stable, long term income for farmers. And let’s not forget that simple nature-based solutions such as tree and hedgerow planting, encouraging grassland biodiversity and peatland management can play a big role in tackling climate change.

Farming also needs to be profitable. We need a food system that ensures farmers earn a fair return whilst ensuring food is healthy, affordable and sustainably produced. Shorter and more transparent food supply chains can help achieve this. Many NFFN farmers are changing the way they supply the food they produce, and are marketing directly to the public, through local supply chains or online. Furthermore, food produced to high nature and environmental standards should be recognised in the market and that farmers adhering to them are rewarded.

Currently, there’s a disconnect between customers and farmers and a lack of understanding on what is good or bad for the environment. We need to educate people where their food comes from and the positive environmental, social and economic impacts of nature friendly farming systems.

The wonderful thing about food is that you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.

To find out more about our key asks please click here.

Thank you all for your continued support.

NFFN Cymru Steering Group

8617_29 Farm Case Study: Phil Knott
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Phil is NFFN Scotland Vice Chair and a crofter on the Sleat Peninsula on the Isle of Skye. He shares with us his farming story and why he believes nature means business.

Case Study: Phil Knott

 

8613_30 Farm Case Study: Hazel MacKenzie
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Hazel and her husband Kenneth run a croft in Aithsetter, Cunningsburgh, Shetland. She is passionate about farming with wildlife and nature and shares her farming story and thoughts on the future of farming with us.

Case Study: Hazel MacKenzie

8609_31 Farm Case Study: Anthony Curwen
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Anthony is vice chair of the NFFN England Steering Group and runs Quex Park country estate in Kent. The estate grows wheat, oilseed rape, oats, beans, potatoes and maize silage and has 60 hectares under environmental schemes. Anthony shares with us how he farms with nature and his thoughts on the future of farming.

Case Study: Anthony Curwen

8253_32 NFFN Job Opportunity
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NFFN Sustainable Farming Officer, England  

The NFFN have been successful in receiving a grant to fund a new staff post for 4 days a week for 2 years to support the growth of the NFFN and the influence of nature friendly farmers. We would like the successful candidate to start in this exciting new role as Sustainable Farming Officer as soon as possible. Please read the Job Description and Role Profile for full details. Applications open till July 10th and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk. We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted.

7705_33 Green Recovery, Calling Cuckoos and future Agriculture Policy; hear about it all in our Northern Ireland Update
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NI Network joins calls for a green recovery

NFFN Northern Ireland have joined over 40 organisations calling for a Green Post Pandemic Recovery for Northern Ireland, in a recent Letter to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The Network, alongside businesses, NGOs, academics and community groups made the case for a more resilient economy, increased space for nature and people and a strengthening of environmental protections. Central to this will be the development of fit for purpose agriculture and land management policies which help deliver nature friendly farming across Northern Ireland.

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Calling all farmers; submit your cuckoo records online

For many, the distinctive sound of Spring is the call of the cuckoo, a bird which can often be found on nature friendly farmland. To help gain a better understanding of the Cuckoo population in Northern Ireland, the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR) is asking people to report when they see or hear this amazing bird using their newly launched online recording facility. If you’ve been lucky enough to see or hear a cuckoo this spring, make sure to submit your record.

Agriculture Bill and Future Policy Development

Whilst the Agriculture Bill continues its progress through Westminster, it remains unclear what the future direction of travel will be in Northern Ireland; currently, there is currently no indication as to when an Agriculture Act for Northern Ireland will be in place. The NI Network continues to make the case for a transition towards a sustainable farming and land use policy as a matter of urgency, and the need for NI legislation in this area. The Steering Group have been active engaging with Ministers and officials in making the case for change and are looking forward to being involved in discussions moving forward.

 

Photos courtesy of Seán Woods and Michael Meharg.

7695_34 Wales’ Sustainable Farming and our Land: Summary of responses
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The Welsh Government has published a summary of the responses they received for the Sustainable Farming & our Land consultation.  Over 3,000 responses were received from a range of farmers, stakeholder organisations and members of the public – a significant proportion of which were directly engaged in farming.  Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs also issued a statement to accompany the Summary Report.

 

NFFN Wales responded to last year’s consultation calling for a new farming policy that facilitates and rewards nature friendly farming.  As such, we are happy to read that the Welsh Government are sticking to their guns and are maintaining the direction of travel outlined in the consultation.

 

“ I continue to propose to provide financial support to farmers who manage their land in a way which enables the sustainable production of quality Welsh food, tackles the climate emergency, reverses the loss of biodiversity, ensures high standards of animal health and welfare and protects our natural resources”

 

But there is still much work to be done.  We will be engaging with decision makers over the coming months to help ensure that a new farming policy in Wales works for farming and nature. If you’re interested in helping to get this message across, please get in touch on info@nffn.org.uk.

7688_35 Ready for Peer Review
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The Agriculture Bill was last debated at Report Stage in the Commons on Wednesday 13th May. It passed unamended and is now scheduled for its 2nd Reading in the Lords for Wednesday 10th June.

 

NFFN worked hard to engage with MPs on our core issues throughout the Bill’s journey in the Commons – specifically calling for high environmental standards in trade deals; strong environmental regulations; long-term funding and certainty for farmers; and ‘public money for public goods’ secured long-term, not undermined by additional clauses on food production, and more.

 

As well as direct targeting of MPs, including sending our written briefing, we joined forces with other organisations to send a joint letter of support. You can read what was said during the debate here and we were delighted that several MPs took the chance to speak up for nature-friendly farming, including Kerry McCarthy MP – who referenced directly from our latest report! You can listen to Kerry here.

 

However, whilst trade standards dominated the Report Stage debate, we are disappointed that MPs did not use this opportunity to enshrine high environmental and welfare standards in law. A number of amendments were tabled, which sought to provide these protections; including one on trade standards from Neil Parish MP, the Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, and we hoped that MPs would have supported these.

 

Put simply, this amendment, and others if passed, would have meant that any agricultural or food product imported into the UK was at least equivalent to relevant domestic standards and regulations. Without this, we run the risk of lower-quality imports to the UK, undermining UK farmers.

 

We therefore remain concerned about the omission of clear standards and protections in the Agriculture Bill and will be encouraging Members of the House of Lords to make the case for these. We will continue to work with our members and supporters across the UK on this and thank you to everyone who emailed/tweeted/contacted their MP in support of our work!

7677_36 Peelham Farm successfully pivoted to online direct sales during the coronavirus crisis – find out how!
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NFFN farmer Denise Walton shares how Peelham Farm successfully pivoted to online direct sales during the Covid-19 crisis.

  • As the UK went into lockdown in March, Denise Walton and the team at Peelham Farm  received an ‘avalanche’ of orders for meat products through their website
  • The farm went from being small-scale specialist artisan producers to key suppliers of food almost overnight and needed to change their systems and processes to deal with demand
  • Strict order deadlines and maintaining relationships with the abattoir and the couriers has been crucial
  • The team has changed the way they communicate with customers and increased their social media
  • The business has replaced all lost restaurant and farmers’ market income with direct sales. Denise says the team at the farm have pulled together to make this possible
  • Denise advises producers to be clear about what they stand for and invest in customer care

 

Denise Walton farms pigs and cattle organically at Peelham Farm in Scotland, where she has an on-site butchery and online meat shop. In March, as the UK went into lockdown and restaurants and farmers markets closed, she received an “avalanche” of online orders, while operating with a reduced staff due to Covid-19.

Before the UK lockdown was announced, Denise and the team at Peelham Farm were already transitioning more of their orders online. Farmers markets were still open, but Peelham had a system in place where customers could place their order online and then pick it up at the market, without having to hang around. So when the lockdown was instated, Peelham already had their direct selling systems up and running.

Even so, the increase in orders was a shock. “We were completely unprepared for the absolute avalanche of online sales,” says Denise. “We thought it might be as much as we’d get at Christmas, but in the first two or three weeks it was three or four times that amount. We were just knocked sideways. After about the first week, we realised the scale of requirements. We moved from being small-scale specialist artisan producers who nurtured our customers carefully into our ethos, to being thrown onto the front line as key suppliers of food for people in lockdown who couldn’t get access. Our whole attitude has had to change.”

Healthy staff and resilient supply chains

Denise’s first priorities were ensuring the health and safety of staff, and the resilience of the abattoir – butchery – courier supply chain. The on-site butchery has a small core team, two of whom needed to remain at home during the lockdown, so despite the increased orders, the team was reduced.

“Two of our staff have gone to long term isolation: one is a single mum so she will be back in the autumn. So effectively three to four times the online sales and a diminished staffing. We put two new staff members through the online elementary food hygiene course. They have been working seven days a week effectively. Our butchers have been fantastic, we have a brilliant person in the office, so we have a very good core team, but we have all been working incredibly hard, long days.”

“We put in physical space in our butchery and office so staff could work safely and at a distance, but it does mean actual processing has been slower.”

And there was extra effort required to keep both the abattoirs and the couriers happy. “We needed to be sure the whole chain was functioning, keeping close tabs on the abattoir and our courier services, who’ve been our lifeline. That chain did become very strained; it’s required a lot of communication, patience and flexibility. We’ve been able to keep the abattoir supplied and cash flow from the online sales meant we could keep the couriers happy.”

This has meant strict order deadlines – “if your order’s not in by Sunday, we don’t process it until the following week” – and increased deliveries, with the Peelham van out on the road to cover Edinburgh deliveries every Friday.

“Because of the huge pressure on couriers we have had to allow for a longer delivery period, so we have to put more ice in, at increased cost. We didn’t want to pass on that cost though, so we increased the minimum delivery and we subsidise our courier cost.”

The quality of the packaging also became more important. “Rather than wholesale products going to restaurants and farmers markets, it’s all going in a box,” Denise says. “So, we have to really be on the ball in terms of ordering packaging. We use WoolCool from 3R Sustainable, so we had to check out it’s industry testing under different temperature regimes. I’ve since been able to tell customers it actually performs better than polystyrene!”

Some products have become unsellable, however. “We handmake sausages so we get broken ones that we use to sell in packs at farmers’ markets. But they don’t look pretty enough to sell online, so we’re now supplying two community food banks, one in Berwick and one in Edinburgh. That was a moral rather than commercial decision.”

Consistent messaging supports direct sales

With the farm’s website more important than ever to the business, functionality and messaging have become paramount. Denise recruited a family friend to develop the social media channels and drive more sales to the website. “We spend a lot of time dealing with customers, a lot of time on emails, those are longer days, but communication is absolutely key. We are spending a lot more time on social media: that has been very important because people use it to get hints as to where to buy and what to buy.

“It’s no longer a phone call to a chef in a restaurant and a chat about different cuts. It’s no longer spending time at farmers markets, engaging with customers and getting direct feedback. It’s all virtual, so it requires a different approach to communication. It’s been quite a profound change.”

That change in approach, combined with changing shopping habits during the lockdown, has served Peelham Farm well; Denise says online direct sales have more or less made up for lost restaurant and farmers’ market sales – with the added benefit of immediate payment. What people have been buying has changed, too.

“People are definitely ordering more minced and diced meat. People still order things like charcuterie, but not that much. Good old mince has really gone up. Also steaks and joints. In the early stages of the lockdown people where buying big meat boxes to fill their freezers, and then their second and third orders have been smaller boxes. Our retail clients have increased their demand, but their demand is sausages and burgers.”

What does the post-Covid future look like for Peelham’s?

“I think it will take a while for restaurants to come back, maybe until Christmas, if they come back,” says Denise. “People will still not be able to go out to eat and they will still want something nice to eat at home. There is that customer. There are other customers who don’t want to go out until they are absolutely sure it is safe. These are the two customers areas that will continue to source from the likes of us.

“We have had an interesting pick up from Edinburgh of people who came to farmers’ markets and we are now delivering to them direct, and I think they might stay.

“Post-Covid we plan to keep our increased delivery options, and our strict order deadline. We had been planning to increase our online sales anyway, and this has made things move very quickly in the right direction.

“To others thinking about moving to direct sales I’d say: be clear about what you stand for. It adds to your unique selling point, why people should buy with you and not a supermarket. Clear, consistent messages are important. And customer care, especially online, is very, very important.”

Denise points out that Peelham Farm is a family business with a focus on environmental impact. She’s been careful not to lose the farm’s ethos even as production has ramped up to meet demand. She says: “Climate change hasn’t gone away and our environmental impact hasn’t gone away, but hopefully we’ll all have taken a positive from COVID-19 in terms of how we manage our beautiful planet.”

 

Click here to find your nearest NFFN direct selling farm.

7666_37 Launching Our NFFN Wales Blog
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12/08/20 – Sorcha Lewis

This Blessed Landscape

Our Welsh uplands are some of the most beautiful in the world. From the pastures and hay meadows of the valley bottoms to the rough grass, heather moor, blanket bog, woodland and crags, these habitats have been shaped by geology and climate, and influenced by man over thousands of years. You can trace the genetics of a countryside in this landscape. These deep connections give our land a special place in our hearts.

 

I am Sorcha Lewis and I live and work in this blessed landscape on a tenanted upland hill farm in the heart of the Elan Valley, Mid Wales. I came here for work, fell in love, married and stayed. My husband, Brian Lewis, farms 580 hectares of mostly open land (and some ‘in-bye meadow and rhos) within a watershed catchment with reservoirs supplying water to Birmingham. Our stock is mostly “Elan Valley type” Welsh Mountain Sheep hefted on these hills for generations.   We have also introduced a small herd of shorthorn/ Hereford cattle which help us manage the vegetation and provide organic manure for the meadows. We are not formally organic but our farm input from chemicals is minimal, using no herbicides or artificial fertilizer.

Lockdown has been tricky. Usually after a long winter our neighbours are a welcome sight and gathering is greatly looked forward to throughout the year. Hill farming can be lonely, so it’s a great opportunity to socialize. This year however, those involved with gathering the sheep from the surrounding hills left promptly for their homes.

Still, it is a beautiful time on the farm as the orange and brown winter veil blooms yellow and green in spring promise and birds arrive from other continents to rear their young. I stand in the empty hayfield at the start of May after lambing when the sheep have been turned off and it is hard to believe that soon everywhere will be filled with the hypnotic rhythms of summer; gentle drumming of pollen heavy bees and other insects busying through the vegetation, birds on the wing promising the earth in song to mates waiting to bring new life into the world…

In April the curlews come to feed, in May the cuckoo calls and June sees the energetic swoop of swallow and martin catching food for their growing young in nests around the farmyard. The meadows, rhos and ffridd are choked with fantastic wildlife: orchids, globeflowers, small pearl bordered fritillaries, Welsh clearwing moth, water voles and a wealth of birds…

This dry Spring is such a contrast to the last 12 months. The reservoirs are slowly shrinking, although the storage capacity of our uplands is greater than all the water held in the reservoirs. Our meadow soils cope well in the really dry weather.   With their mix of grasses and deeper rooting flowers they are resilient when fields elsewhere are burnt yellow. We struggle more with wetter Summers because hay needs 3 – 5 days to dry and it is a tricky balance. Our meadows generally get cut in August/September, which allows plenty of times for the plants to flower and set seed. At worst we can bale as haylage, though we favour the small bales as they are easier to take out to stock on the hills when the weather is bad.   Then, Autumn touches the meadows and it’s the turn of the waxcap fungi to enjoy the short sward. Soon it will be a cold Winter’s day again on a remote hill when cutting the baler twine frees the smells of last summer with a promise of summers yet to come..

Traditional field names are clues to the pre 1900 landscape. We have a field called Cae Lloi (Calves field) where just yesterday our young shorthorn cow, Marbles, took herself to give birth. Most farms have a Cae Ysgubor (barn field) in the hills (barns for housing cattle and the harvest). One of the old fields – now drowned below the cold water of the reservoir – was called Dol y Bont (Meadow of the Bridge). I guess it would have been full of globe flower, meadow thistle and butterfly orchids as the remaining water margins are now.

Here in Wales the most important field name which gives the value to the importance of herb rich flower fields, is that of Cae Ysbyty (Hospital Field). Here you would put a poorly ewe or cow to graze on the herbs they need and “mend up”. Plants have medicinal properties, e.g. natural wormers, that beasts utilise and even now reduce the need for chemical intervention.

These rare upland hay meadows are incredibly important genetic resources. Hardy grasses and herbs, adapted to take up minerals and resist harsh weather, hold vital benefit to us and to farms and landscapes everywhere.   Precious wildflower meadows in the UK are as important as the Amazonian rainforest.

I would like to see Wales and the rest of the UK lead in turning around their decline. I would like to see some more science to back up what we know here on the hills about the value of our meadows. The benefits which the uplands deliver are undervalued and at risk. The intricate and vital connection between upland farming, wildlife and landscape, is so important to our futures. New policy should reward managing, restoring and recreating new meadows.

I am heartened by the amazing work I see done by farmers through the NFFN across the UK and the many more voices which give me great confidence and hope that there will be support for reforms to agriculture policy that works for everyone.

This lovely video gives a sense of the heritage and wildlife on a typical hill farm. Gilfach (Cosy Nook), was restored by the local Wildlife Trust and is in the next valley to us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4XEBAgIYFE

Images by Sorcha Lewis

 

22/06/20

Wales’ Global Ecosystem – an Insect Blog from the Ceiriog Valley

The more we look, the more we realise how much important stuff is going on connecting distant ecosystems.

I am going to tell you a story about an insect we see daily through the summer in the Ceiriog Valley. The marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) is around 12 – 18mm long.   She ably demonstrates the global role our Welsh valleys and mountains play in the biodiversity of her global environment.

“One Ceiriog Valley morning in late summer a tiny, new, marmalade hoverfly awoke and felt a feeling in the air, was it a shortening of the days, perhaps, or a chill wind, or a change in the light? She knew she had a different purpose to her parents. She needed to journey south to find a warm place to lay her eggs. The Valley was getting too close to winter. “

 

Millions of other marmalade hoverflies, other flies, butterflies, beetles, dragonflies and birds do exactly the same thing. They head south across Wales and England, Norway and Finland, France and Germany, Russia and the Middle East, towards the Mediterranean basin and beyond.

 

“As she reached the Pyrenees, favourable winds in French valleys funnelled her up and over the col into Spain, where she rested a while to feed before carrying on southwards. Exactly how far south she could have ended up, researchers are not sure (yet) but there is a reasonable possibility that she flew well into Africa before settling to lay her eggs on the green vegetation and live out her remaining days under the sun.

 

Her children and grandchildren stayed local until weeks and months later the urge to move made the newest generation follow the spring ‘green wave’ north. This journey was a different, multi-generational, journey, not a ‘one fell swoop’ like great great great…. Grandmama’s. Each new generation would move a little further north as new food sources grew.”

 

Hoverfly larvae are voracious predators of aphids and other plant eaters, so lag slightly behind the first appearance of green shoots; hatching to coincide with burgeoning food populations. Adult hoverflies are nectar eaters and important pollinators (like bees except that most bees do not migrate).

 

On their journeys north, migrating insects inadvertently carry grains of pollen which can improve the gene flow between plant populations across the continent. This is a vital component of biodiversity and one which migrating insects are often responsible for performing.

“At last, in May and June – several generations down the line – the tiny hoverfly that was hatched in the Ceiriog Valley last summer has returned, or at least her genetic material has, to pollinate my plants and lay eggs enough to build a new army of larval predators to eat the myriad aphids and other small plant predators in my garden and hedgerows and crops.”

 

Millions of insect migrants migrate across Europe every year. Many, if not most, provide immense but often unrecognised services. Almost all our fruit and vegetables are pollinated by animals and the health of our plant populations relies on good genetic diversity.   Migrators also deposit nutrients in the inevitable rain of nutrients when they die.   Nutrients circulate across countries and continents every year as migrants breed, eat, move and die. Indeed, in the far northern permafrost migrating insects may be the primary supply of nutrients.

 

Political boundaries are irrelevant to migrating animals, but human practices in farming, building on landscapes, use of pesticides and herbicides and soil health often create boundaries that restrict biodiversity. However, farming methods can also maintain, expand or create habitats, refuges and havens.

New discoveries about insect migration reveal in sharp focus the global nature of our farm environment and the value of maintaining and reinstating good habitat to support this movement of pollinators, plant genes and pest controllers.

We share our farms with insects who live on a continental, even global scale, tied intimately in with the way land is managed across thousands of miles. Nature friendly farming, and the types of farming systems that the Network is trying to encourage and mainstream, play a vital role in helping our insect allies.

 

For more about work on insect migration, follow the Genetics of Migration Lab on Twitter which has links to public talks and interviews to listen to when relaxing after a hard day, through to scientific papers for a wide-awake moment.  

This is science at its relevant best, connecting with the public (and welcoming questions!).

Photo credits:  Will Hawkes

About the author, Sarah Hawkes.

My home is in the Ceiriog Valley.   I work lambing seasons on a neighbouring farm with 500 ewes.  I grew up in rural Somerset where I worked for the Waldegrave Estate in the cheese dairy and farm office before a spell in London.  My background includes working with the invertebrates and amphibians at London Zoo, studying natural history with the Open University and a fair bit of travelling looking at amphibian communities in the far east, Australasia and NW England.

 

 

29/05/20

Welcome to the first ever NFFN Wales blog! As a steering group we thought a monthly blog would be a good way of keeping members in touch with what we are up to on our farms and our thoughts on current political events that will affect the future of farming.

 

I am Hilary Kehoe, the NFFN Chair for Wales so I’m starting things off with an introduction to my farm in North Wales, why nature is so important for farming and food production and why we need a new agriculture policy that rewards nature friendly farming.

 

The Family Farm

My husband and I manage Tyddyn Isaf, which overlooks the Menai Straits near Bethesda. We have mountain rights on Llanllechid common for our Welsh Hill flock and graze our Highland and Belted Galloway cattle and Manx Loughton sheep on nature reserves from Pwllheli to Bangor, Anglesey and the coast below the farm. We also run a countryside contracting business with two of our grown-up children which incorporates our grazing livestock into management of the nature reserves for the Wildlife Trust, Local Councils and holiday parks.

 

With the right grazing our animals create conditions for a range of species and habitats such as grassland waxcap fungi, breeding waders, leeches, wildflower meadows, wetlands, sand dunes and heathland. The sheep and cattle are finished slowly and are marketed through local butchers or as premium meat through local sales. Although we are not registered as organic the farm is run on organic principles with no fertiliser, herbicides or pesticides used.

 

Nature Friendly Farming Benefits

Although it’s been awfully dry recently, we find that the deep-rooted native plants in our species rich grasslands help the land withstand the dry weather, whilst more intensive ryegrass fields get burnt off. The wide variety of herbs growing in species rich swards also control worms, which we only treat for after testing the animal’s dung. This also makes for better tasting meat! The wide variety of herbs in our grassland and wild lands increases the omega 3 and linoleic acid in the meat which enhances its flavour.

 

Plenty of tall trees in our hedgerows (which we manage on a 3-year rotation) provide shelter from the sun and bad weather. The healthy soils, hedges and trees on the farm also sequester carbon, absorb water and reduce flooding.   For us, nature friendly farming just makes sense. As the UN stated in their recent report on Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture;

 

“Biodiversity makes production systems and livelihoods more resilient to shocks and stresses, including to the effects of climate change.” 

As you can see, our family is passionate about our way of farming with wildlife. Even though there is a lot of cattle herding and boggy tiptoeing involved, we can see the benefits around us and delight in watching for the latest earthtongue fungi, flowering orchid or lapwing chicks. It is great on the nature reserves to engage with visitors and explain why the animals are there and what they are achieving. (They can also be helpful in locating the odd lost cow!)

 

Everyone can play a part

All farms, whatever their system, can be nature friendly – whether it is by creating wider headlands for wildflowers and connectivity for voles, bats and birds; planting a wider mix of species into productive grasslands, or planting copses and managing hedgerows in a more wildlife friendly way. Small changes can be great for nature with minimal effect to the farm, and often yield unexpected improvements to farm performance. Have I piqued your curiosity? If so, click here for advice on Nature Friendly Farming.

 

A new Farming Policy

Whilst the UK Government is developing an Agricultural Bill, the Welsh Government is also busy developing its own farming policy for Wales. Without thriving biodiversity, the ability of our land to keep producing food is under increasing threat, so this is a great opportunity to design a new policy that rewards nature friendly farming that helps maintain and enhance our wildlife and natural environment.

 

Promoting agroecology, regenerative agriculture, nature friendly faming (whatever you want to call it!) and rewarding farmers for helping nature to thrive, instead of making payments to intensify food production in inefficient and polluting ways, is a better choice for food production, communities and the environment.  I feel very strongly that we must work together as nature friendly farmers with local people and organisations to encourage the UK and devolved Governments to support farmers to work with nature, rather than against it – before it’s too late.

 

Your support is vital in order to achieve this change. If you’re passionate about farming and nature, then why not join the Nature Friendly Farming Network? You can sign up as a farmer or a nature lover (for free!). Every voice counts.

7644_38 MOREwoods and MOREhedges
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Helen Chesshire from The Woodland Trust tells us about the England Tree Strategy and schemes the Woodland Trust they have to support farmers.

Image by Pete Leeson

By the time you read your NFFN newsletter we hope the England Tree Strategy (ETS) will have been published for consultation.  This is important and relevant to you as farmers.  The Government has made expanding tree cover an important part of its commitment to be Carbon net zero by 2050. The ETS is a huge opportunity for DEFRA to show that trees and woods are not just carbon sponges waiting to be planted, but an integral part of the landscape, helping form networks of habitats and making your land more resilient. 

 

Here at the Woodland Trust we will be calling for the ETS to fully support farmers to both manage and expand trees and woods on farms. We believe trees should be in every farmer’s toolbox helping to boost productivity, resilience and the health of the environment with no need for trade off with food production.  The Trust has a range of schemes to help you integrate trees into your farm and has already supported the creation of over 2,500ha of small areas of woodland and shelter belts through its *MOREwoods scheme and over 200 km through its *MOREHedges scheme. An expert advisor will discuss the best species, tree protection and ongoing maintenance requirements with you to help you get the results you are looking for. Generous funding is available and in some cases support with planting can be arranged too. Visit our website at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant to find out more or apply online for our planting schemes.

 

We will be calling for much greater support for trees on farms, often referred to as agroforestry, in both the ETS but also in the new environmental land management schemes being developed by each devolved nation.  As Nature Friendly Farmers we know you appreciate the value of working with the environment and creating havens for wildlife so we hope every member of the NFFN can get behind our ETS campaign and help us promote trees and hedges as part of a more sustainable

approach to farming. 

Image of Stephen Briggs Farm by Tim Scrivener

 

Stephen Briggs, NFFN farmer in Cambridgeshire who has created a 52 hectare silvoarable scheme in 2010 reports “integrating trees into my farming system is capturing carbon, delivering soil protection, providing habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects and the local wildlife as well as making us more income.   Trees grown as agroforestry can be just as valuable outside of woods as in and Government schemes throughout the UK need to reflect this in the support provided to farmers.”   

 

*MOREwoods and MOREhedges are funded by Woodland Trust partners: Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland.

 

7305_39 Agriculture Bill Report Stage & Third Reading Briefing
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On Wednesday 13th May 2020, Parliament will be voting on the Agriculture Bill online, defining the future of UK farming. At the NFFN, we want to ensure that this Bill puts the environment at the forefront of farming practices.

We have created a briefing on the Agriculture Bill Report Stage and third reading here.

The Bill is pretty good. It delivers a public money for public goods approach, which will create an effective landscape model for future food production. But there are two amendments that need adding, one on trade so that farmers are not undercut by cheaper, poorer quality food, and one on securing long-term funding. We are asking our farmers and members of the public to please email their MP as soon as possible, showing your support for the Bill.

Please support the NFFN to keep farming sustainable by emailing and tweeting your MP, below is some suggested wording you may wish to use.

The Agriculture Bill will come before Parliament for another vote this Wednesday. I am particularly interested in this Bill because I am a public member of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, and feel that the Agriculture Bill is strong and needs your backing. I welcome the public money for public goods approach in the Agriculture Bill, which will create an effective landscape model for future food production.

The shift towards a nature-friendly approach is not just good for wildlife but is key to the long-term survival of farming. It delivers broader benefits to the public, including flood protection, climate change mitigation, water and air quality, and access to thriving natural landscapes. Public money for public goods will support farmers to deliver all these benefits and produce sustainable food for everyone to enjoy.

As my MP, I am asking you to please back the Bill on Wednesday. Please also support amendment NC2 which will protect British farmers from being undercut by cheaper or poorer quality produce from overseas. And please back amendment 5 which will place agriculture on a much firmer financial footing, helping guarantee sustainable food production long into the future.

If you use Twitter, please also tweet your MP and tag us @NFFNUK

This is a brilliant opportunity to lock in a nature-friendly approach to farming for the future. Please contact your MP as soon as you can.

Thank you for your ongoing support for NFFN and the nature-friendly movement.

 

6890_40 Have your say in designing a new Wales Agriculture Policy
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Following on from last year’s Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation The Welsh Government is launching a co-design exercise to help develop a future Sustainable Farming Scheme in Wales. This is an opportunity to explore the more practical implications of the proposed Farm Sustainability Review, as well as the four main actions that will potentially make up the core of a future scheme;

  • Soil Husbandry
  • Animal Health and Welfare
  • Farm Development Opportunities
  • Habitat Management.

This is an excellent opportunity to ensure that nature friendly farming is given a voice in Wales.  Your experience and knowledge will be valuable in shaping a future farming policy in Wales that works for farmers, nature and the wider public.

 

What you need to do…

To register and start the process of being involved in the development of a Sustainable Farming Scheme for Wales you will need to…

  1. Complete your registration details to take part in co-design.
  2. Indicate your interest in a one-to-one session and/or workshop by 30 June 2020.
  3. Complete the survey which will remain available until 30 June 2020.

For more information and to register click this link.

Image: Andy Hay

6832_41 2020: a blooming year for road verges? A Practical Guide from Plantlife
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Over 700 wildflower species and nearly 45% of our total flora are found on our road verges. Considering we’ve lost 97% of our wildflower meadows since the 1930s, these crucial habitats need to be properly managed.

Plantlife’s best practice guide on ‘Managing grassland road verges’, produced in partnership with highways agencies, industry contractors and other wildlife organisations, gives practical advice on a ‘less and later’ two-cut approach which reduces management burdens, saves money and restores wildlife.

6813_42 Food for people and pollinators
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Catherine Jones, Pollinator Officer, shares with us an update from Buglife and information about their forthcoming farmer survey.

Skylarks are singing above the fields, a sign that spring is here, and soon we will hear the buzzing of summer as bumblebees, butterflies and other pollinators forage for food amongst the wildflowers blooming across the countryside. Sadly, much of the wildflower-rich habitat that pollinators need from spring through until the autumn, has been lost or is fragmented in the managed rural landscape. Nature friendly farmers play an important role providing large areas of pollinator friendly habitat. Buglife’s B-Lines map (available from: https://www.buglife.org.uk/our-work/b-lines/) provides a tool for nature friendly farmers to target the creation of wildflower-rich habitat along corridors between existing habitat to make a better connected landscape for our declining pollinators.

Buglife, and many other conservation organisations are working with Defra, farmers, and other land managers, to design a new environmental land management scheme. We would like to understand how we can support farmers and land managers in a rural environment that provides food and shelter for pollinators, rewards farmers for producing food for people (and pollinators), and protects the countryside for future generations. Buglife is asking farmers and land managers to share their thoughts/opinions by completing a short online survey. The responses will be anonymised and the survey will be shared by the Nature Friendly Farming Network early in May. This is your chance to help shape the future for pollinators across the English countryside.

In these difficult times, farmers across the country continue to produce and deliver food for people and nature friendly farmers continue to protect the countryside for our wildlife. Thank you.

Images:

Buff-tailed bumblebee –  Roger Key

Orchard in Kent – Laurie Jackson

6805_43 A week is a long time in politics… Robert Lingard provides us with key updates
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They say a week is a long time in politics, and the speed at which coronavirus has affected our lives, from a national lockdown to the associated political and legislative disruption, has certainly shown that to be true.

Whereas our last e-newsletter listed progress on all fronts of legislation in Westminster, that NFFN were working hard to influence, – including the Agriculture Bill, Trade Bill and Environment Bill – things have now slowed significantly. Weeks when we were expecting Second Readings and Third Readings of Bills have now passed, with no dates yet in sight for when we will be able to resume. With the Westminster Parliament still expected to return next week, albeit in a largely virtual sense, we await details for when and how much of this vital legislation will return for scrutiny.

25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

This of course is not only felt in Westminster though but across all our nations, including Northern Ireland, where only a few months ago Stormont was back in business, after more than 1,000 days of suspension. The implications of new land-management and funding mechanisms for farmers affects all of us, so rest assured that we are working with colleagues across the UK to ensure that your voices are heard wherever you are.

Indeed, the current challenges doesn’t at all mean that our political engagement stops and at the NFFN, we are continuing to work hard to ensure that our goals and ambitions for the future are heard, especially in these difficult times.

Our asks remain the same, that the Agriculture Bill must ensure public money for public goods, high environmental standards for trade deals; to ensure that farmers in the UK are not undercut by imported food produced to lower standards, deliver strong baseline environmental regulations and a long-term funding commitment. It must enable farmers to produce safe, healthy food at the same time as helping our soil, landscapes, rivers and wildlife to recover and flourish.

We know that coronavirus has caused disruption to many of you and thank you to everyone who has shared with us how they are adapting to these challenges, from dealing with a lack of labour to the suspension of usual supply chains – we will certainly be incorporating any lessons learned into our messaging and policy asks.

Our recent report – Feeding The Nation: How Nature Friendly Farmers Are Responding To Covid-19 – showcases some wonderful case studies, demonstrating the value and impact of nature-friendly farming. These past few weeks have helped awaken an interest and cement an understanding in both decision-makers and consumers of the importance of farming. With your support, we will help build on this to ensure lasting change.

Robert Lingard, NFFN Parliamentary Liaison

6725_44 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Paul Sousek
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Cottage Farm is an organic regenerative livestock farm powered by renewable energy. Paul raises organic Red Ruby/ North Devon cattle and organic Wiltshire Horn sheep, which they sell as meat boxes direct to customers, both locally and nationally. Paul also runs the North Cornwall Food Hub which supplies food and other products produced mostly by local farmers, growers and producers.

Read about Paul, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6722_45 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Jock Gibson
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Jock is a livestock farmer in Scotland, who, after inheriting the farm from his father decided to work with nature rather than against it. Jock is currently supporting his local community by adjusting their business model to support local and national deliveries, they are now completing a months’ worth of business in 2 to 3 days. They have also teamed up with other local businesses to deliver on their behalf, helping vulnerable people receive the food and goods that they need.

Read about Jock, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

 

6713_46 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Sally-Ann Spence
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Sally-Ann Spence is an entomologist and farmer based in Wiltshire. Berrycroft Farm is a family farm, run by Sally’s husband and brother. It produces wheat, barley, oats, and beans – the rapeseed oil goes to McDonalds for frying, the wheat goes to Warburtons for bread. Around 100 acres of grassland is grazed by native breed livestock that actively restore the grassland. Sally’s an enthusiastic science educator who also runs an education and research centre on the farm.

Read about Sally-Ann, her farm and how she’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6706_47 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Charlie Cole
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Charlie Cole is a first-generation farmer who manages Broughgammon on the North coast of Antrim. His farm, famous for its award-winning rose veal and goat burgers, has been championing sustainability and the principle of ‘forward thinking farming’ since 2012.

Broughgammon is a mixed system aiming to demonstrate high welfare standards, environmental stewardship resilience and profitability. Charlie is a passionate advocate for locally produced sustainable food, highlighting that nature friendly farming can play a key role in addressing many of the current problems facing food and farming at present.

Read about Charlie, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6693_48 NFFN Covid-19 Story: David Walston
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David Walston runs a 900-hectare arable farm in Cambridgeshire that produces mainly wheat, rape, peas, beans and oats. He uses techniques like no-till, companion cropping, bi-cropping and mob grazing to go beyond farming sustainability and actively regenerate the quality and productivity of soils. David has recently launched CoVeg, programme aiming to bring together farmers and their local communities to produce local vegetables which otherwise may not be available.

Read about David, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6703_49 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Martin Lines
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Martin is the U.K. chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network. He is a third-generation farmer and contractor in South Cambridgeshire, growing mainly arable crops on his family farm and rented land. He has a special interest in farm conservation management, currently running an ELS and HLS agreement and Countryside Stewardship schemes on land he rents. He also supports the delivery of Stewardship Schemes for a number of other farmers.

Read about Martin, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6696_50 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Neil Heseltine
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Neil was born and brought up at Hill Top Farm, Malham in North Yorkshire, where he now farms with his partner Leigh. In 2003, as part of a conservation grazing scheme, Neil reintroduced 20 Belted Galloway cattle to join the Swaledale sheep flock. This proved to be a defining time in terms of farm ethos and mind-set, as he sought more sustainable and environmentally friendly production methods.

Read about Neil, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6489_51 Species Rich Grassland Restoration at NT Rowallane Gardens Farmland, Northern Ireland
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Kevin Duncan from the National Trust tells us about a trial methodology to speed up the reversion to a more species rich sward of the grassland at Rowallane in Northern Ireland.

As part of our Land Outdoors and Nature strategy to restore and create landscapes where are our native wildlife can survive and thrive. We have under taken an exciting project within the farmland at Rowallane to enhance the diversity of the wildflowers found there, in partnership with the local tenant farmer. This in turn has the potential to enhance the overall biodiversity of the site, as the wildflowers will provide a valuable provide nectar sources for our native pollinators and attract insects which then act as a food source for farmland birds. Flower rich grasslands have undergone serious declines, and this is why we are so passionate about trying to re-establish them, helping to restore a healthy, beautiful, natural environment.

 

This autumn working with Ecoseeds, a wildflower restoration specialist company, we used a method known as ‘stitching in’ to sow some wildflower seed called Yellow Rattle into an area of one of the fields. This is a low disturbance method but creates enough bare ground to create germination areas for the seed. The seed was harvested locally within National Trust land, helping to keep the seed of local origin.

 

Yellow Rattle or Hay rattle as it is commonly called, due to its seeds making a rattling sound in the wind. Is a typical wildflower species found in traditional species rich hay meadows. This little plant has useful conservation restoration characterises as it is a hemi-parasitic plant.  It uses specialized roots called haustoria to penetrate the roots of neighbouring plants, in particular grasses to obtain nutrients.   This reduces the vigour of the grasses and encourages a wider diversity of more delicate plants to come up over time, as there is less competition.

 

Fingers crossed we will see Yellow Rattle plants start to germinate from late March onwards and this will help in time to deliver a much more species rich grassland.

 

The tenant farmer will be continuing to  work in partnership with us to aid the management of field towards the development of species rich grasslands over time. Through managing this field as a traditional hay meadow, followed by aftermath grazing. The hope is to expand this management across some of the other fields in the land holding and spread the species rich green hay to other fields, to encourage the development of these species there.

 

It is only by working in partnership with our tenant farmers, farming in wildlife friendly way, that the National Trust can deliver our great conservation work, helping nature to survive and thrive.

 

If any farmers are interested in carrying out similar meadow restoration projects like this one. This can be funded through Countryside Stewardship schemes. Would will help fund the seed and establishment costs and the needed traditional land management practices such as taking a late hay cut.

 

Although these traditional meadows may not be as productive as the modern Rye grass dominated swards. They do bring other benefits to livestock. Such as increased livestock health benefits through the diversity of plants, grasses, legumes and deep rooting herbs found in these grasslands. Which contain a range of minerals and vitamins helping to keep the livestock in good health, with less reliance on mineral licks or drenches being required. This increased mineral content is then passed onto the consumer through consuming the end products.  There is also research showing that certain plants which contain tannins, upset the live cycle of parasites and lead to less need for expensive worming drenches. Helping to stop the on going issue of anthemic resistance.

 

So working with nature can really benefit the whole farming system and make it more resilient long term whilst delivering the many services the public demand.  However it’s important to remember if we the public want landscapes full of colour and sounds of native species we must then support farmers, who have made the move to nature friendly practices which not just deliver for nature, but our health and wellbeing also.

6484_52 All the Moor Butterflies Project Finishes on a High
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Simon Phelps and Megan Lowe from Butterfly Conservation share with us their experience and successes of the fantastic All the Moor Butterflies project.

After three years of hard work (from 2017 to 2019) on the iconic moors of south-west England, Butterfly Conservations ambitious ‘All the Moor Butterflies’ project has finished. The project has improved the fortunes of some of south-west England’s rarest butterfly species by working with landowners and farmers, whilst also offering a breadth of opportunities for new and existing audiences to get involved with their conservation.

The project worked with 146 landowners/farmers across 201 sites on Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. Project staff carried out 841 site visits, giving advice to landowners and farmers to help them care for the rare butterflies and moths on their land. 199 sites were surveyed for the target Fritillary species, resulting in a whopping 13,243 butterflies being counted. It was wonderful to see such rare species thriving on areas of sensitively farmed land across the three moorland areas. Three key highlights were strong numbers of Pearl-bordered Fritillary being recorded across Dartmoor, numbers of Heath Fritillary booming in 2018 and 29 new sites being discovered on Bodmin Moor for the Marsh Fritillary. Farmers in these areas deserve great credit for retaining these species, which have been lost from many places nationally, on their land.

The project delivered a large amount of habitat management work in partnership with landowners and farmers. 165 hectares of habitat was improved on farms by working with volunteers, who attended 80 work parties and gave 861 days of volunteer time. This meant that habitats were improved on farms for key species like the Marsh Fritillary.

Over 5000 people learnt about the fascinating lives of these wonderful insects and were given opportunities to contribute to their conservation. This was a crucial part of the project, as it was vital to show people these beautiful species and places. School children, volunteers and people with mental health issues all got the chance to learn about why these butterfly and moth species matter and join in with the work to save them.

The ‘All the Moor Butterflies’ project has been a tremendous success. It has demonstrated that when we work together at a landscape scale, involving conservation partners, landowners, farmers and volunteers, we can save species. It has also shown us that butterflies and moths are a powerful force for good within communities.

You can find out more about what the project achieved by visiting the project website. You will also find a lovely film there that showcases some of the highlights of the project. The website is here: https://butterfly-conservation.org/our-work/conservation-projects/england/all-the-moor-butterflies

6375_53 The Agriculture and Environment Bills are Back
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Bills a Plenty!

Now that Parliament has returned following last December’s General Election and is back in full swing, progress with environmental legislation resumes at pace, with all the following once again live and actively in play within Westminster – Agriculture BillEnvironment Bill and Fisheries Bill.

With the Second Reading of the Environment Bill (25th February) and the Agriculture Bill continuing to make its way through Committee Stage in the House of Commons, Parliamentarians are poised to make critical decisions on some of the most important legislation to face farming and the UK’s environment for half a century.

We know how vital it is for the voices of farmers and their commitment to nature and demonstration of their hard work to be recognised throughout this process. The NFFN has been working tirelessly to ensure that these decision makers understand and champion a way of farming which is sustainable and good for nature; highlighting that farming and nature can go hand in hand.

 

This has included written and oral evidence to MPs and Committees, as well as meetings with key stakeholders to ensure that sustainable farming and the aims of NFFN members are at the heart of these discussions. You can read our recent briefing on the Agriculture Bill here .

 

NFFN believes the Agriculture Bill must ensure public money for public goods and high environmental standards for trade deals; to ensure that farmers in the UK are not undercut by imported food produced to lower standards. It must also deliver strong baseline environmental regulations and a long-term funding commitment. Fundamentally, it must enable farmers to produce safe, healthy food at the same time as helping our soil, landscapes, rivers and wildlife to recover and flourish.

We have therefore welcomed the public money for public goods approach of the Agriculture Bill and are pleased to see additions to this Bill to include soil health as a public good, as well as payments for regenerative and agroecological approaches – measures that are essential to nature and climate friendly farming practices.

 

However, we remain concerned that future trade deals could undercut the high standards set by UK farmers. We strongly support appropriate additions to the Bill to
ensure that trade deals promote high standards for the environment and food, and protect farmers and the public from products which do not meet the high standards of UK agriculture. We believe that the Bill should set a robust baseline of environmental standards for land management for all, even so those who choose not to engage with any environmental land management schemes can receive financial support. A strong regulator is needed to enforce these standards.

 

The NFFN has also supported calls for greater certainty about long-term funding under the Bill. We welcome additions to the Bill that require Ministers to establish a multi-annual financial assistance plan, but we would like to see these plans strengthened to give the most reassurance possible to farmers.

 

The ultimate vision for this new farming future though is that these Bills, and subsequently the legislation and policies that will be enacted, do not operate in silos and that we see the joined up thinking that is essential to support and enable farmers, as we move forward to a new scheme, to not only halt loss but reverse the decline in our natural environment. We will be working with partners across the sector and others to ensure that the bold promises made on this are not forgotten throughout this process.

 

As always, we would love to hear from you about what you are doing on your farm and whether you would like to host a visit for your local MP to see your efforts in practice. If you would like any further information or to get more involved, please email Robert.lingard@nffn.org.uk

6361_54 FABulous Farmers – Nature Friendly Ditching
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FABulous Farmers – Nature Friendly Ditching

Ditches are important. Many were originally dug over 100 years ago in locations where they were really needed. Improved drainage was historically a rather unsung feature of agricultural improvement to help increase the productivity and reliability of food production. Apart from designed landscape schemes there was no recreational ditching when you had to dig them by hand! They provide many functions to the farming system, especially when combined with in-field drainage system;

  • They remove excess field water, encouraging deeper rooting and extending the growing season, allowing fields to maintain productivity, keeping soil in the field and helping reduce compaction
  • They take water away from farms, and other locations where it isn’t wanted, to watercourse. As such, they have a role in reducing flooding of farmland but speed up the flow to water courses
  • They provide a valuable, often overlooked habitat for aquatic, invertebrate, mammalian and bird species.

So how do we promote water voles, dragonflies and snipe, without risking field productivity or flooding upstream?

This short blog will describe a few simple measures that can be adopted by farmers, without significant investments in time or cost, to promote ditches as habitats without sacrificing their core function.

Patchwork approach                     

As with most habitat management, a patchwork approach is better than a large sweep in one area. If you are planning to do some ditching, consider breaking blocks into smaller areas. Perhaps only do one side of each field or ditch or per year. Ditching on a rotation that is spread across the farm will provide a variety of habitats, as well as the ability for species to move to nearby habitats if ditching is required.

Half a ditch, halve time.

A job that is done more regularly than digging ditches is removal of vegetation growing on the side of a ditch with a flail or hedge cutter. This can become a regular routine at a quiet time of year and with no agreed specification or control. The vegetation at the side of a ditch has several functions. It is a valuable habitat, but also works as a buffer strip to prevent the leaching of chemicals into the watercourse. Good vegetation cover on the walls of the ditch helps maintain the integrity of the ditch, preventing soil eroding into the ditch bottom and reduces the need to dig the ditch out and maintains the drainage function.

To maintain a healthy, manageable amount of vegetation consider only flailing one side of the ditch each year in rotation , such as the image below.

Cutting each bank on rotation helps maintain habitats for a variety of species, as well as allowing vegetation to maintain the integrity of the ditch wall and drainage functions.

A ditch or a pond? What about a p-itch? Vertical movements in the ditch profile

Ditches were designed and dug to efficiently transfer excess water from field to watercourse, minimal maintenance. We can maintain this drainage function, but greatly improve the wildlife value and slow down water by simple ideas when digging ditches out. Consider;

  • adding some deeper sections which will stay wet when the rest of the ditch has dried up, acting like a temporary pond
  • building up spoil to create some shallower sections which will help wading birds
  • creating ‘shelves’ or shallow slopes in the ditch profile to accommodate a wider variety of species

In the image below, we have built up some ditch spoil in this particularly deep, but relatively dry ditch. This has raised the water level but still below outfalls of the field drainage outfalls, providing a valuable habitat for aquatic species. A section of large bore drainage pipe has been used to maintain the flow of the ditch. Skilled digger work has also created a number of shelves just above and below the water level. Remember to remove or spread spoil from the edges of field margins as soon as practically possible.

Adding a variety of depths, as well as pockets of the ditch that stay wet, can help provide a variety of habitats without sacrificing field productivity or the core function of the ditch.

A bit of wiggle room – horizontal movements in the ditch profile

As part of the intensification of agriculture in the post-war period, many ditches were straightened to create field shapes that were more conducive to larger machinery and to remove water as quickly as possible. The fast flow of water in a straight line encourages sediment, pesticide residue and nutrients to pollute large watercourse, such as the rivers where ditches usually end up. Using machinery to create bends in ditches to ‘slow the flow’ can help prevent this pollution, as well as reducing flood risk downstream. The slower pace of water and altered ditch profile can also provide great habitats for wading birds and waterfowl without taking large areas of land out of production. This type of change does require a bit more thought than the previous suggestions, and a local wildlife advisor may be able to provide some advice. Below are some images of a ditch that was un-straightened into a small field that was not profitable to crop so instead is used for stewardship options.

Before

After

Wiggling a straight ditch can ‘slow the flow’ of the ditch, reducing erosion and pollution, as well as creating beautiful and biodiverse landscape habitats.

In this particular example, around 50m2 has been taken out of production. Using conventional yields of 10mt/ha (which this field would never get!), that is 50kg of wheat lost per year. At the current wheat price of £159, this area costs the farm £7.95 a year. The initial cost was 6 hours of labour and the hire of the 3mt digger for a day.

Over the years, many farms have lost ponds and many of the ponds that remain are often neglected and over grown due to the lack of support available for farmers to maintain or restore them. Using ditches as a means of creating habitat is one way nature friendly farmers can help to halt and reverse the biodiversity crisis. A combination of these methods and techniques across a whole farm will help provide valuable habitats without sacrificing the core function of ditches or the productivity of the farm. If you have a go, do post photos on social media using the hashtag #FABulousFarmers.

By Callum Weir

Callum Weir is the farm manager of the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate, a mixed organic farm focused on demonstrating sustainable land management principles. He is also the project manager of the FABulous Farmers project in the East of England.

6350_55 Plan to recover your soil and benefit wildlife
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Alan Bullivant, East of England Farm Advisor from the National Trust shares his FABulous Farmer tips on how to help your soil recover following a challenging winter!

The continual wet weather during autumn, and now heavy storms and flooding has left many fields with damaged or waterlogged areas, or bare soil from harvested crops.

Once the immediate urgency has passed, take time to plan how to recover this damaged soil. Is the soil compacted and preventing water movement into the soil? Is the drainage system working as designed? Where appropriate, is the moling still functioning to allow water to get to drainage pipes? Are pipe outfalls clear and running?

Assess the potential profitability of cropping these fields or part fields compared with getting them recovered for the next crop. Sowing a cover crop or wild bird seed mix in late spring will provide roots to draw out moisture but also provide valuable wildlife habitats and food.

This is an opportunity to identify even small areas which may be better used to restore or create ponds or scrapes to benefit wildlife than poor crops.

Check out the various Countryside Stewardship schemes now available.

6345_56 NFFN Farmer Case Study: Chris Clark
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Chris Clark NFFN England Chair, tells us his about his farm and his thoughts on the future of farming.

Chris Clark Interview

6338_57 The Return of Stormont and NI Farmer Survey
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25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

The Return of Stormont

After over 1000 days the Northern Ireland Assembly is back up and running. One of the key priorities for the new Executive should be the development of a new agriculture policy for Northern Ireland.  In the absence of an Assembly, DAERA had undertaken valuable work developing a draft agricultural policy framework for Northern Ireland. However, it’s not clear what will happen next with this important piece of work. NI government must act with purpose and urgency to bring forward plans for a bespoke policy for Northern Ireland, which helps farmers deliver for nature and the environment at the same time as supporting sustainable family farms which produce to high quality and welfare standards.

NI Farmer Survey

Farmers across Northern Ireland are being encouraged to participate in an important survey to seek their opinions on current and future agriculture policy.

Much has been suggested about what the local farming industry could look like in future years as the UK prepares to exit the European Union, with devolved administrations having a greater influence in shaping future agricultural and environmental policies.

Northern Ireland Environment Link (NIEL), the networking and forum body for organisations interested in the natural and built environment of Northern Ireland, have secured funding to run a survey to explore farmers’ opinions and want to hear from a wide range of farmers in order to assess views on the current state of farming, problems they are facing, and their opinion on possible future changes to agricultural policy in Northern Ireland. This research will inform NIEL and other stakeholders of what is important to local farmers, allowing them to tailor policy advice to DAERA on the needs of the farming community. To participate visit here

6266_58 NFFN Farmer Case Study: Gethin Owen
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Gethin Owen, NFFN Wales,  tells us his about his farm and his thoughts on the future of farming.

Gethin Owen Interview

6230_59 Farmer Blog from NFFN Scotland Chair Michael Clarke!
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Reflections from a Dumfriesshire farm
October 2020

“Highland ponies careering through the garden at midnight was not an ideal way to start October; nocturnal conservation grazing on the house lawn was not in the plan. Someone had left a gate open-no one’s ‘fessed up -but they left a trail of devastation which we’re still clearing up. Hard to say whether pigs or ponies are the more destructive; the ponies probably edge it. After 2 hours of moonlight searching, with all hands on deck, we found the escapees; conversation was a little stilted for quite a few days afterwards.

There is some good news, though. I managed to sow over 20 wildflower patches and the midden has been fixed-hooray! Just as well, given the way the weather has turned here. The calves have all been weaned and are now tucked up in their straw beds in the sheds. It takes mothers and offspring a little while to come to terms with the separation but it allows the calves to grow on under their own steam and their mothers some respite before they calve again in the spring.
Autumn has come early this year. Temperatures remain mild and the grass continues to grow but ground conditions are already water-logged, with more rain forecast. The colour change in the trees and hedges has been dramatic and wonderful- every shade of gold, brown and yellow, with some reds mixed in; set off by some wonderful sunsets and a dark red setting sun-all heralding the start of shorter daylight hours and our winter routine, now that the clocks have gone back. Our animals will now be completely reliant on us for food, water and dry bedding. It all takes some handling.
In between all the feeding, bedding and muck-scraping, my thoughts and actions turn to our woods and hedges. It’s an exciting time for me and if I’m honest, probably my favourite job. I’ve ordered thousands of bare-rooted hedging plants to gap up the newer hedges and to replace any dead young trees in the tubes in our new woods. Then, probably after Christmas, the thousands of cell-grown plants provided with financial support from The Woodland Trust will arrive for this year’s new hedges and wood. Despite the water-logged conditions, I’ll somehow have to fence off the areas to be planted, so it’ll be the usual skidding and swearing as I ask myself, for the umpteenth time, why on earth didn’t I do this in the summer?
NFFN was one of the sponsors of the Northern Real Farming Conference, a new event which, like so many others, took place on-line this year.Several members of the Scotland Steering Group stepped up to the plate and hosted slots. We all agreed that it was enjoyable and educative, with some interesting feedback.
We continue to try to put NFFN “out there” in Scotland.  Our Agriculture Bill is more consolidatory than radical, unlike the Westminster one. Both have major frustrations for us and have increased our resolve to keep lobbying for a more nature friendly support system. For now, there is a deep sense of foreboding and anger amongst Scottish farmers that food produced to lower standards will flood our market after the New Year.
We must hope for a better outcome to the Westminster Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into tree planting and woodland expansion, to which we aim to submit our views, arguing for an approach to new planting approvals which will provide a better balance for biodiversity. It is so important that voices are heard, speaking up for Nature. We’re glad to be able to add ours, at the same time as continuing to practise what we preach.
As we enter another period of lockdown across much of the UK, we’ll all need to take care and try to stay safe. It may be hard to see it now but there will come a time when the worst is behind us. Christmas is not far away now and there is much to get done on the farm before then!”
September 2020

“Barnacle geese calling to each other high overhead, sharp frosts early in the morning, cobwebs like saucers glistening in the whin bushes-it must be Autumn. We’ve had some better weather in September and some bad days too; mixed really but a particularly beautiful day late in the month on my birthday (don’t ask!) when a sharp frost was followed by bright sunshine and we had an al fresco lunch in the garden-something which doesn’t happen too often on a working farm. In the morning, I cut some more of the vegetation which would otherwise smother our loch, using an electric weed cutter on the back of our rowing boat and the swallows (a family of four) were still here but I think they’ve since gone, along with the others which have already left. Bon voyage, little birds! we hope to see you back next Spring.

Autumn is, of course, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness; and what a bumper crop of berries we seem to have this year. Some people say it’s a sign of a hard winter to come. Whether that proves to be the case or not, the finches are feasting on the knapweed, the fieldfares on the hawthorn berries and the blackbirds on the brambles. It’s particularly encouraging to see the sloes on the blackthorns in the hedges which we’ve planted in the last 10 years-it will all help the wildlife to get into the best possible condition to endure the challenges ahead.
We’ve had some late calves, later than we would have liked but welcome nonetheless. Rosie, Stubbie (she has a short horn which continues to grow) and 369 all calved in September. Their calves will have to accompany them into the sheds when the weather turns. They will be too small to be weaned, unlike most of the rest of the calves, which we will wean off their mothers when we house the cows. We use medicines sparingly but on the advice of our vet, we’ve treated most of our cows and the older calves against lungworm this month, prior to housing them in October/ November, depending on how wet it gets.
I’m sorry to have to report that the saga of the midden continues to hold up getting our sheds ready for the cows to come in. It took 3 weeks for the concrete panels to be made and is taking a lot longer to get them installed and the area reinstated. We’ve pushed on with painting the walls and steelwork in the sheds as best we can until they can be mucked out.
Very sadly, one of our Highland ponies had to be put to sleep. We’d bred Poppy and she was a gentle character with a lovely nature. She’d suffered from laminitis, a condition which causes the hooves to be very painful, for years and we’d managed it by restricting her access to grass, especially in the Spring and Autumn and with painkillers. But her quality of life deteriorated markedly in September and we had to make the difficult decision to call it a day for her. It’s a responsibility which comes with livestock ownership. The vet put her into a deep sleep from which she wouldn’t wake up on the hillside on a beautiful sunny afternoon, as she lay enjoying the warmth, unable to stand because of her painful feet. We’ve buried her alongside her mother. RIP Poppy.
Trees and hedges are a big part of Williamwood and are helping to transform the farm. As you know, I aim to plant many thousands every year and I am a tree lover. But I am irritated and concerned to see the Scottish Government pledging so much money (£150m) to new tree planting in Scotland and so little to agri-environmental support, with so little guidance on the direction of travel. I guess we all get the carbon sequestration benefit of woodland but a permanent land use change, particularly in areas which currently produce food and provide a habitat for our threatened upland waders, like lapwings and curlews, is not necessarily a good thing. Wearing my NFFN hat, I am trying to beat  the drum for mixed land use, with space left for starter farms and for Nature in new woodland plantings which include broadleaves and natural regeneration as well as commercial conifers. There are sympathetic ways to embrace all these objectives. The challenge is to get the forest industry to adopt them and to get the Scottish Government to show as much consideration for agri-environmental support as it has for afforestation. Piloting outcome-based agri-environmental support (“POBAS”), in which farmers in selected areas of Scotland are supported on their  agri-environment journey by advisers and rewarded for the outcomes which they help to produce, is an encouraging initiative, about which we are beginning to hear. NFFN is voicing its support for that direction of travel. What remains missing is any sense of urgency that the biodiversity crisis is every bit as important and serious as climate change.
Keep safe in these challenging times which continue to affect us all.”
August 2020
“August has been a frustrating month. Hopes of getting the painting done, the midden repaired and the fields drier have all been cruelly dashed. But if there’s one thing you can’t control in farming, it’s the weather-something you learn the hard way pretty early on. I could use several words to describe the weather here in August but this is a family publication, so I’ll content myself with “diabolical”. OK, so we had a spell at the start when I could leave my coat off all day and pretend that summer had arrived but we mainly had rain, torrents of it and not much sun. The midden looks like a swimming pool-anyone fancy a swim…-and the hole in the ground has got bigger. It’s a real worry for us now and is holding up operations. Those of our neighbours who grow barley to feed their livestock over the winter are struggling to harvest it, bale the straw and remove the bales from their fields too. Not good.
It hasn’t been a great month for nature friendly farming in the Scottish Parliament either. NFFN was supporting an amendment to the Agriculture Bill (a “purpose clause”), which would have seen farm payments more specifically directed to farmers and crofters who work to improve biodiversity and combat climate change. Despite cross-party support from Labour and the Conservatives and the support of the Greens, it was defeated by the Scottish Government with the support of the Lib Dems, on the grounds that it wasn’t the right amendment at the right time. It’s a massive missed opportunity to inject a much-needed sense of urgency into efforts to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises and has given our Scotland Steering Group, boosted by the appointment of Nikki Yoxall, our new Sustainable Farming Lead, much food for thought about where best to direct our efforts to advance our determination to see nature friendly farming higher up the political agenda in the run-up to next May’s Parliamentary Election.
On the farm, the lapwings are still here, as are the swallows and, in great abundance, the tree sparrows. It is wonderful to see them all and to see so many successful broods of blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, siskins and chaffinches. The rain has meant that the grass continues to grow and I have had to work hard to top the rank growth, so that the re-growth next Spring will be juicy and nutritious. Because of the wet ground conditions, I do that with a machine attached to my quad bike (a tractor would be too heavy, would cause unwelcome ground compaction and could well get stuck). It has been wonderful to see the swallows swooping and diving around my head as the topper disturbs the insects they’re after-what incredibly acrobatic fliers they are!
We’ve bought a new machine (something which doesn’t happen very often here) but we’re keen to do all we can to encourage the waders, especially the lapwings and curlews. It’s a spinner, which goes behind my quad bike. It will spin out granular lime to improve the alkalinity of the soil in some of our smaller and particularly rushy fields. I hope that will have at least two main benefits-by bringing  more earthworms to the surface and reducing the density of the rushes. I prefer to cut the rushes with the topper rather than spray them, after the nesting and wildflower season and I hope the combination of the topper and the new spinner will see a real improvement in conditions for the waders.
The new wood is looking good-the young trees have had plenty to drink- the new hedges are growing well, there are lots of blackberries on the older hedges and the new wildflower areas are spectacular. Lots still to do to get the sheds ready for the cows to come in but I’m already looking forward to doing more new hedges and a new wood this coming winter and “beating up” (replacing the dead plants) in the hedges and pruning the trees in those I’ve planted in the last few years. The smell and the chill of autumn is in the air!”
July 2020

The changeable weather has made July a trying month down on the farm. Dry one minute, wet-very wet-the next. Hot-coat off; then cold-coat back on again. It’s just the sort of weather farmers hate: impossible to plan, impossible to do jobs which require at least a couple of days of dry weather. It’s beginning to cause us problems at Williamwood. We have a retaining wall on our muck midden to fix before we can muck out our sheds and we need a good spell of dry weather for that. Our cows and calves are beginning to make a mess of our grass fields-to “poach” them. We don’t want to bring them in for the winter for several months yet and we urgently need some drier weather!

There have, of course, been a few dry spells during one of which Shirley managed to host a live video tour of the farm and one of our holiday cottages. You can watch the tour again here.  Partial relaxation of the lockdown restrictions has allowed our visitors to return, although with continuing restrictions on where they can go on the farm and a lot of extra work for Shirley in the changeovers. Our walks are all open, which means that anyone who wants to can get a good dose of Nature but sadly, we can’t provide the farm tours which have allowed our visitors to get up close and personal with, for example, our Highland cows. Badger watching has been popular, especially with the remote cameras linked to the TV’s in the cottages.
The last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August are when the roe deer mate-the “rut”. It’s when the roebucks are most visible, with their deep orange coats. At least their minds are on things other than marking their territories by giving our young trees a good thrashing with their antlers. Shirley was lucky enough to see something which I have never seen in many years of roe watching. She saw a young buck rouse himself from resting on one of the islands in our loch, swim across to the bank, shake himself off like a dog and then casually clear the fence as if it wasn’t there. I’m very jealous. I’ve never seen a roe deer swim, although I’m not surprised that, like cows, horses and even pigs, they can if they have to.
The hot news from the Network in Scotland is that we have appointed a professional to spearhead our efforts. Fantastic news for those of us in Scotland and we hope, a real gamechanger. Nikki Yoxall starts with the Network on a part-time basis on 1 September. She’s a farmer with a special interest and expertise in education and social media and I hope our members in Scotland will be hearing a lot more from us about what we’re doing on their behalf.
The month has seen the loss of two “old friends” for me -a very old beech tree, which blew down into our newest young wood and an old crab apple tree, which blew down across our farm trail. It’s always sad to see such magnificent and long-lived trees reach the end of their lives. It took me several days to clear the beech, which had fallen across the walkway through the new wood; and a day to clear the crab apple. Both will provide logs which will go into store to dry for a year before we can burn them in the house and the holiday cottages. I’ve left the lop and top-the branches- in situ to provide a bit of shelter for farm wildlife.
And despite all the wet weather, I’ve managed to paint some of the outside of the farmhouse. I won’t mention that I got stuck 20 feet up in the air, when I couldn’t get the cherry picker we’d hired, to let me down. I don’t like heights at the best of times, so that’s an experience I’d rather draw a line under. I still have a lot of painting to do, thankfully at lower levels; there are lots of things in a Dumfriesshire farmyard that need regular re-painting!
I hope that August will see the painting done, the midden fixed and the fields drier. Then we can think about tackling our autumn jobs. Where did that summer go?
June 2020

“The last day of June 2020 will stick in my mind for a long time, for a very good reason. It was one of those “stop the clock” moments when I saw two successfully hatched lapwing chicks scurrying along our loch edge with their parent. We had been aware of a nest somewhere on our winter bird food crop for some time as the adult male repeatedly took to the wing whenever we were near. It’s the crowning glory for us of a very good hatching year for young birds at Williamwood. We’ve never seen so many young tree sparrows, another species whose numbers have been declining nationally. Lapwing numbers have declined by over 60% in the last 45 years. We hope our pair of new arrivals make it through to adulthood and help the effort on many other nature friendly farms to reverse those declines. Lapwings are such attractive and iconic birds. We’re well made up!

Things are looking up for us on the economic front too. The bookings for our cottages are flooding in as people are keen to get a countryside and nature fix after such a long  lockdown. Shirley has had to do some very detailed risk assessments and lay on many extra precautions for our visitors’ safety as well as our own. Sadly, they mean that we won’t be able to have the close contact which has been a feature of our visitor experiences in the past. But I’m working to make sure the walks are open (the vegetation growth here is awesome) so that our visitors can still see our grazing animals, our wildlife and our wildflowers. We have more orchids and more tway-bladed orchids, which are quite unusual, than ever and July is one of the best months to see them. I managed to paint the outsides of the cottages, which are now looking very smart, while Shirley was busy on the insides. We don’t want to see much more of the weather of the last few days, thank you-hashy, bashy wind and rain; somewhere in between that and the very hot weather of the middle of the month would be ideal.
The longest day is always a turning point for us. In some ways, it feels like a roller coaster ride. Heading towards it means that the days are getting longer and that there are more hours to enjoy living and working in the countryside. Heading away from it means the opposite. Of course, there are warm months ahead but we can’t help feeling that we’re already on course for the harder routines of the winter. Sad, isn’t it? Good job there’s still so much to do to take our minds off it!
The sheep have been clipped (shorn), the first draw of lambs have gone to market and we’ve made our first cut of silage. The liming has visibly helped our grass and reinforced our determination to have another soil analysis carried out next year. Anything which means we can reduce our bought-in fertiliser bill has to be a good thing, especially as it will help us further reduce our carbon footprint. I need to start thinking about my hedge and new wood planting plan for 2020/2021 soon. These things always take as long in the planning as the execution. I’m told there is a shortage of young plants because stocks have been destroyed as a result of the lockdown. I do hope that doesn’t mean a struggle to source enough.
The Prime Minister has just announced a major public works building programme to help kick-start the economy. I hope we soon hear more about his plans for “The Green Recovery”. NFFN will be working hard to see that better support for nature friendly farming features in that. In Scotland, we also have the Higgins Report, released in June, which advises the Scottish Government on ” how Government policy can help the transition towards a greener, net-zero and well-being economy”. We could show them how, if we could get them out to nature friendly farms! We’ll keep lobbying, employing terms like “natural capital” (one of their four “pillars”) and getting them to put some substance behind their call for “the prioritisation of nature-based solutions (to) build on the natural environment as a key part of Scotland’s brand and comparative advantage to the benefit of tourism and other sectors”. Has the penny finally begun to drop? With nature and biodiversity central themes of the UK’s COP 26 Presidency, “focussing on the importance of nature-based solutions, which should be a win for livelihoods, climate and biodiversity”, let’s hope so!”
May 2020

“An incredible dawn chorus, families of tree sparrows bursting from the hedges, a merlin we’ve never seen here before-all signs that the nature friendly measures are working and audible and visible reminders that it is possible to produce food and help the environment at the same time.

The lockdown continues for us all, with differing rates of easing across the UK. The weather here has helped make the restrictions more bearable. Long balmy evenings after very hot days have meant an opportunity to get more done before calling it a day. May is the best month of the year here: the farm looks greener and better than it does at any other time of the year. The grass is jumping and the last of the cows have been turned out, with a few of them still to calve, so it’s fingers crossed that we don’t have to intervene. We’ve had a potential show calf this year-one that stands out from the rest. Very exciting!
Only a farmer or a gardener could complain that we need rain; but we do. It has been extraordinarily dry. I spent many happy hours preparing and sowing my wild bird crop to feed the birds over the winter, only to see it refusing to germinate and being attacked by flocks of rooks and jackdaws. We’ve bought some fireworks to deter them but I’m afraid it may be too little, too late. I may have to re-do it, despite excellent advice from Kings and applying lime to it and several other fields in an effort to reduce our bought-in fertiliser and help our carbon footprint.
With the prospect of visitors returning to our holiday cottages in July, we’ll need to spend June “fettling them up”, as we say around here. I’ll need to re-paint the exteriors and Shirley will concentrate on the insides. It’s all a bit like painting the Forth Bridge.
A big disappointment for the Network and many other farmers was the defeat in the House of Commons of the amendment to the Agriculture Bill , intended to stop imports produced to lower standards than in the UK. It’s caused quite a tremor and something of a sense of betrayal, despite assurances from those MP’s who voted against it that there’s a bigger picture and that the Government remains committed to protecting the standards to which food sold in the UK can be produced. With the clock ticking towards Brexit, it has heightened the sense of anxiety that we may be heading for an unwelcome future for nature friendly farming. We’ll do our bit in Scotland to help the  Network campaign to make sure that is not the case. It would be a tragedy.
Keep safe and well, especially as the lockdown is eased. Enjoy the good weather while it lasts and the extra boost which the lockdown has given our wildlife this year. Every cloud has a silver lining….”
April 2020

Wonderful weather, swallows back, bluebells out in profusion, signs of Spring everywhere-what’s not to like about the last month at Williamwood? So much better than the month before and a better way to endure the lockdown, even if our holiday cottages remain eerily empty and mean that we are struggling to pay our suppliers. We hope that they will be sympathetic.

Lambing is nearly over, calving continues and we have two new foals-so lots of new life to look after, although we hope that their mothers will do most of that. Nevertheless, we will need to keep a close eye on them for a few weeks yet. It’s a full-on time of year for us, with a great sigh of relief when mothers and offspring can be turned out into the fields for an early bite of grass-even if the mares and foals need to be brought back in every evening!
I managed to finish planting the new wood and hedges just before the ground became so hard that planting would have been very difficult. The downside of all the dry, sunny weather that we’ve enjoyed is that some of the new plants, especially the holly, do look stressed and are desperate for rain. Somehow, I think Nature will restore the balance.
A nature friendly farm is a wonderful place on which to enjoy Spring. You can almost wallow in Nature’s bountifulness. It never ceases to fill me with wonder. Where there was brown, there is now green. Where there were bare branches, there are now green leaves of all hues and the birds are already bringing off their first broods. Such an extraordinary turn-around from a few short weeks ago, triggered by something deep within the fauna and flora, which it is so important for us as farmers to nurture for future generations.
The lockdown has brought home to all of us the importance of food security and the benefits of being able to shop locally. I know that many farmers have stepped up to the plate and increased their local and national deliveries wherever they can. Our challenge as nature friendly farmers is to ensure that food security is improved at the same time as support for the care of the environment and efforts to combat climate change. None of us, farmers or consumers, can afford to see food security strengthened at the expense of the environment, putting short term expediency above the long term interests of future generations. Biodiversity decline and climate change have not gone away and we will need to ensure that they remain well up the political agenda when the pandemic has eased.
I hope that you’re all finding ways of enduring the lockdown. I’m conscious that it must be so much harder for anybody confined, for example, to a high rise flat than it is for farmers with so much more space. Where we can, I know that members of NFFN are posting brief videos on our network, which aim to bring something of our glorious countryside into your living rooms. If we can master the technology , we will do that from Williamwood. Meantime, keep safe and know that Nature is bursting with new life across the country, whatever unwelcome challenges the pandemic might bring into our lives.
(Image: Swallow by Hedley Wright)

March 2020

What a difference a month makes. Last month, I didn’t think to mention coronavirus. This month, it’s hard to start with anything else. It seems to have taken over all our lives. Lockdown, self-isolation, remote-working, anxiety about the NHS’s capacity to cope, wondering how long it will all last. Let’s hope it’s not too long and that things can get back to something approaching normality before too long. Until they do, we’ll miss the income and the visitors  to our holiday cottages, which are a major source of financial support for the farm and an important way of keeping us connected.
Self-isolation and movement restrictions are, of course, part and parcel of everyday life on a livestock farm, especially at this time of year. We’re well on with lambing and calving. Our premature calf is thriving and there are many new lives at Williamwood. We’ve had a good spell of dry weather, still very cold with a biting north-easterly wind which is stopping the grass growing but so much better for putting new lambs out than the incessant wet we had for months on end.
The signs of Spring are all around us. Still no swallows but green shoots starting to appear everywhere-in the hawthorn bushes, the willow saplings (a beautiful lime green) and the dog roses, which were probably the first to flush. It’s such an uplifting time of year, even in the face of a national pandemic. Farmers are so lucky to have such space in which to self-isolate but also so important to the national effort to keep food on our tables.
I want to tell you about my new wood. It’s such an exciting project. Under the Woodland Trust’s MORE Woods scheme, I’m doing all the work, including the fencing which I’ve been banging on about for some months now and the Woodland Trust is meeting the lion’s share of the cost of the woodland and hedging plants. They arrived on quite a big lorry on the day our heaviest Highland pony, heavy in foal, decided to stand on my foot. It still throbs. So I’ve hobbled through the last of the fencing and planted over 600 metres of new hedge. I’m now into setting-out and planting up the new wood and hedge with native trees and plants. It will connect two areas of massive biodiversity, which is why it’s so exciting for wildlife, for people and for reducing our carbon footprint. I wish I’d done it years ago. As they say, the best time to have planted a tree was 30 years ago; the second best time is now.
We work hard here to take particular care of our animals and to produce food in nature-friendly ways. We want to make Williamwood a watchword for biodiversity. It’s at this time of year, as Spring unfolds, that you can see how much sense it makes on all these fronts to put so much effort into farming in nature-friendly ways. It helps the animals, the wildlife, the farmer and our visitors. In fact, it helps us all by reversing wildlife declines and combating climate change.
Stay safe and well until the next time…
February 2020

I knew something wasn’t right as soon as I saw all the feathers. There were just too many. The fox had killed all our hens. It was a miserable way to start the day. I knew them all. They were good buddies and gave us lots of eggs. Life on a farm can be very bruising. We’ll need to get some more but I’ll need to reinforce the anti-fox measures first; no small job when you know how persistent a crafty fox can be.

Oh, and I managed to reverse the telehandler into Shirley’s horse lorry. Oops. Another senior moment. She’d moved it “out of the way” to avoid it being blown over by the gale force winds we’ve been having. Hmmm. I did say “sorry” and that I would pay for the repair.
On a brighter note, the snowdrops are well out and our first daffodils came into bloom on 11 Feb. We planted thousands down each side of the farm drive when we came here  but there are gaps now where the badgers have dug some up for the sugar in them. Badgers have a sweet tooth but I try and give them enough peanuts in the woods to keep them there. Our holiday cottage visitors like to watch them on their TV’s, which are linked to cameras in the woods. Watching them can become addictive. We love to watch their family squabbles on the camera linked to our “snug”; much better than watching those endless adverts!
I had to do a double-take when I checked in the big shed earlier this month. One of our cows had given birth to a calf. How could that have been possible when she wasn’t due for at least another couple of weeks? It was premature and unlikely to survive, particularly if we didn’t lift it off its mother, which is something we’re reluctant to do-cows make much better mothers for their calves than humans-but we felt we had to do it. We made it a cosy, straw-filled pen in a draught-free building and put it under a heat lamp. It’s a real cutie and still with us after nearly 2 weeks of 3 bottle feeds a day and lots of cuddles. Tam the cat rides shotgun on the final feed of the day at about 10pm, just to check that we’re doing the job right. Not long now until all the cows should begin calving and we begin lambing. That’s when the real “fun” starts. It takes over our lives and we become even grumpier with each other than usual.
What awful weather we’ve been having. We call it “hashy-bashy”. Gale force winds for days on end and torrential rain; a horrible combination. Whoever said there is no such thing as bad weather should try being a farmer, It’s not been great for our Highland cows, which live outside all year nor for making progress with the fencing which I need to finish before I can start planting our new wood and hedges. The plants arrive on 16 March so I’m thinking of hiring a hovercraft.
Climate change must be a big factor in the wetter winters we’ve been getting. It wasn’t like this even 10 years ago. All the more reason to do all we can as nature friendly farmers to reduce our emissions and increase our carbon sequestration. Wins for nature can be wins for climate change too; all those extra trees and hedges will absorb carbon dioxide and getting more from our grass through better silage and less fertiliser should reduce our emissions. We’re on the journey, as we all are in NFFN.
The days are already drawing out, which makes life on the farm just that bit easier. It’s not easy driving heavy machinery in the dark. Yes, I made that excuse when I hit the lorry-not convincing when it was broad daylight. Anyway, we’re looking forward to the longer hours of daylight and the extra lives which we hope will come with them without too much trouble. The numbers dependent on Williamwood for their survival could double within the next few weeks as we begin calving and lambing in earnest. Here’s praying for some drier weather. It would make us all feel better. We can but hope.
Until next time…
January 2020
Morning has broken. It’s still dark and I’m up to feed and check on the animals-always our first priority. Most of them are in the sheds at this time of year (although never our Highland cows, which brave the elements come what may) and depend on us to carry their feed to them and to keep them well-bedded with straw and watered.
I always speak to them, particularly when it’s still dark, before they see a shape looming out of the darkness. Animals get to recognise familiar voices and it’s important not to scare them. The cows and the mares are heavily pregnant now and should begin giving birth within the next 6 weeks or so. One of the cows-Rosie-always answers me with her distinctive low “moo”, as if to say “what, you again?”
Our Jack Russell terriers, Wilfie and Minnie, accompany me on my morning round; and Tam, our cat. He may be one of the smallest animals here but he can more than stand his ground. He likes to check that I’m doing the job right. The cows all seem to know him. He rocked up as a young stray 3 years ago and has made himself “Numero Uno” since; think the cat on “Shrek”. We’d be lost without him.
The short days and stormy weather at this time of the year mean it’s a constant race against time to get things done. Feeding and scraping out and topping up the bedding for the animals takes up the lion’s share of the daylight hours, with the morning routine more or less repeated in the afternoon. I use a  graip-a pitchfork- to push the silage towards the cows rather than a machine because I’m keen to keep our carbon footprint as low as I can and my ageing body functioning for as long as I can-a challenging combo!
We farm near the Solway, which is the main wintering ground for thousands of greylag geese. In the morning, they lift off and fly over us on their way to our neighbours’ fields and in the evening, they fly back to the Solway. There can be as many as several hundred in the sky, great skeins in their arrowhead formations, calling to each other as they fly. You hear them before you see them-an extraordinary sight and sound which makes the hairs on the back of your neck tickle.
Winter is when I do most of my new hedge and tree planting. So far this year, I’ve planted over 3000 saplings, just to replace the plants lost in my new hedges since last year. I still have another 1200 metres of brand new hedging to do plus another new small wood of native broadleaf trees. So that’s another 9000 or so more saplings still to plant, to say nothing of the fencing that I still need to do first. You can see why I’m always racing the clock! All the rain we’ve had has made planting easier but fencing a nightmare. Some farmers are never happy!
We would be struggling without the income from our holiday cottages. This tends to be a quiet time of year for them, which leaves more time for other things, like planting new hedges and fencing but puts enormous pressure on the cashflow. Farmer are so much the poor relations of an industry which supports so many other businesses downstream, like machinery dealers and feed suppliers, who earn so much more for their efforts. Nobody can accuse us of doing what we do for the money. But nobody forces us to do it either. On a good day-and there are many of those here -there can be no better job in the world. Here’s hoping for a drier week ahead!

 

6063_60 NFFN NI Environment Strategy Response
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NFFN Environment Strategy Response

We have recently submitted our response to DAERA’s discussion document on a future environment strategy for Northern Ireland. This has been developed by our steering group and through wider engagement with our membership, thank you to all of our members who responded. This strategy is a first for its kind in NI and will set the long-term direction for environmental management here. We believe that support for nature friendly farming is central to helping the strategy achieve its aims. To see our strategy response, click here.

6057_61 NFFN NI: Our vision for future agriculture policy in Northern Ireland
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Future of Farm Support in NI

NFFN NI has outlined its vision for future agriculture policy in Northern Ireland. It is our view that a future policy should be based on the principle of public money for public goods, with an ambitious environmental payment scheme representing the primary means of public support within a future agricultural policy framework. To read our position paper visit here.

6047_62 Scotland’s Good Food Nation Bill
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The Scottish food system is broken- the lack of access to land and poor opportunities for food producers mean we rely more and more on a food system that harms our people, our animals and our environment.

The Scottish Food Coalition- a coalition of over thirty different organizations working on workers’ rights, animal welfare, climate change, biodiversity, social justice and health have set out to change the food system. To do this, they are campaigning for an ambitious Good Food Nation bill to ensure everyone has access to fair, healthy and sustainably produced food.

You can also form part of this campaign! By becoming a Good Food Nation Ambassador you can help voice the concerns of your community. You can also become involved by subscribing to our newsletter and following us on facebook and twitter. Let’s work together to ensure Scotland becomes a Good Food Nation.

6041_63 Make 2020 the Year to Start Looking at Your Carbon Footprint
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Why not make 2020 the year to start looking at your farms carbon footprint?

The UK farming and land use sector can contribution significantly to help reduce carbon emissions and sequester more carbon.

NFFN are committed to securing farming policies that support  the environment and nature, tackle climate change, will support sustainable agriculture and provide fairness for farmers.

We hope our Practical Guide to Carbon Friendly Farming will help support  your net zero carbon journey.

 

 

6039_64 CIWF Awards – Enter Today!
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Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) have opened applications for their 2020 Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards.

NFFN would like to encourage our farm members to enter their Sustainable Food and Farming Award category which recognises businesses that are taking steps to produce meat, dairy and eggs in ways that protect, improve and restore wildlife and the environment.

CIWF was inspired to introduce a Sustainable Food and Farming Award following its 2017 Extinction and Livestock conference that brought together the worlds of animal welfare, conservation and the environment.

The deadline for us to receive completed application forms is 15 May 2020 . The award will be judged by a panel chaired by Philip Lymbery, Compassion’s CEO and including Graham Harvey, agricultural journalist and previous agricultural story editor of The Archers. The winners will be announced at Compassion’s Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards ceremony in June 2020.

Good Luck!

6037_65 ORFC 2020
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Going to the Oxford Real Farming Conference on the 8th and 9th January? Then why not come along and meet some of the NFFN steering group farmers?  The Woodland Trust, who are kindly hosting the NFFN, have their stand in St Aldates Church (just opposite the main conference venue in the Oxford Town Hall).  Please do come and share your ideas with us about the NFFN and the future of farming. You can also chat with the Woodland Trust who highlight how trees can support the delivery of  nature friendly farming whilst also helping to mitigate climate change.  Come and find out about their subsidized tree planting schemes too!

If you’ve been to the ORFC before you’ll know there are many exciting sessions, here are a few that we’d like to highlight to our members.

Value of Tree Fodder in Silvopasture Systems:  Wednesday 8th Jan 10.30am Assembly Room

If you are a livestock farmer or interested in tree fodder then do come along to the Woodland Trust and Pasture Fed Livestock Associations seminar.

Silvopasture is an ancient practice that integrates trees and pasture into a single system for raising livestock. Research suggests silvopasture is the most effective climate change mitigation solution of all agricultural strategies (Project Drawdown).  However, there are also animal welfare and productivity benefits through the provision of shelter, shade and as a valuable source of food.  This session will give a brief overview of what Silvopasture is and its benefits before delving into more detail about why two producers are planting trees on their farms. It will have a particular focus on trees as a food source and highlight new research on the mineral composition of tree leaves and how best to utilise some of the concentrations identified as a supplement for sheep.

Practical Ways to Achieve Net Zero in UK farming: Wednesday 8th Jan 12.00 Council Chamber

There’s no doubt that Government’s legally binding target of net zero carbon by 2050 has huge implications for farming and land management in the UK. In this session, experts from all sides of the debate will interrogate exactly what net zero means for farmers and land managers on the ground. Discussion will range from the science that underpins net zero, to the politics behind the ambitious target, the policies we will need to make it a reality and the pioneering action some farmers are already taking.

Networking Session: Practical Ways to Achieve Net Zero in UK farming: Wednesday 8th Jan 13.30 Long Room

In this networking session, which follows on from a panel debate in the Council Chamber, farmers are invited to take part in group discussions, tailored to their specific farm context, about practical action they can take on their farm right now to tackle emissions and store carbon. Discussions will be broken down into arable, livestock, horticulture and mixed farming, and will be facilitated by representatives from Wildlife and Countryside Link and the Nature-Friendly Farming Network. Attendees should leave the session with clear advice and actions they can implement on their farms.

The Circular Farm: Thursday 9th Jan 12:00 Court Room

A circular economy aims to create a closed-loop system by turning waste into resources. When this theory is applied to agriculture, what does a circular farm look like? This session, facilitated by partners of the FABulous Farmers project, will be based on informal, but practical knowledge exchange between farmers on the success and challenges they have faced in implementing sustainable farming activities such as agroforestry, cover cropping, minimum tillage and input reduction. Innovative farmers such as George Young and Martin Lines will be on hand to share their journey, provoke challenging discussions and answer practical questions.

Environmental Land Management Schemes: State of Play: Thursday 9th Jan 14.30 Council Chamber

The new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which will replace the EU CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) in England has been in development since mid-2018. This session with DEFRA, farmers and experts will help participants to get up-to-speed and to feed back on the latest details like expected outcomes, payments, current tests and trials; and explore how ELMS links to other key developing areas of policy, like regulation. Most speakers do have experience of doing or planning tests and trials and we do want to bring that out as practical, real life information. Participants can share suggestions and concerns in a Q&A after the short presentations and via cards given on each seat, which we will collate to provide us and DEFRA with valuable insight following ORFC.

For the full ORFC programme please click here. We hope to see you there.

6012_66 NFFN Meet the Team! Phil Knott, Scotland Steering Group
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Phil Knott is a crofter on the Sleat Peninsula on the Isle of Skye. Phil lives with his partner and daughter on a 3ha wooded croft. He has come to crofting from a different angle to most, that of being a wildlife and land management expert but with no direct farming experience. His knowledge in flora, fauna, geology and soil has given him a good grounding and makes him look at the land in different ways to others. Being a wildlife tour leader has taken him all over the world, as well as to every corner of Scotland, especially the Highlands and Islands where he has studied all of the different farming practices.  He moved to Scotland in 2004 and has always wanted to manage his own piece of land, it took over 10 years to find the right spot, but it was worth waiting for. Pockets of land are hard to get hold of in the Highlands of Scotland, but crofting does give present an opportunity to get your foot on the ladder, albeit with more difficult ground than many parts of Scotland.

Phil’s Tells Us More…

We took on our croft in the autumn of 2015. The land on Skye is often tricky, with thin, heavily leached and compacted soils, heavy rain and frequent salt-laden gales. Our croft is no exception! 3ha of slope, sitting on top of impermeable Torridonian Sandstone. What attracted us to this croft though was that the previous owner had given most of the land over to native tree planting, so we had a project to take forward and some shelter to work with. There are very few trees in our township and our directions to visitors are simple; you can’t miss us; we are the croft with the trees!

When we took it on in it was uncut, ungrazed and totally unmanaged since trees were planted 10 years before. It was very rank in places! However, what it did show was the amazing power of nature to look after itself. The upper meadows were full of Meadowsweet, Knapweed, Devils Bit Scabious and in the spring Pignut, all with no management at all. The deep-rooted trees have also drained large sections, and underneath the Alder and Birch trees is lush green grass. Move just 5 yards away from the tree and the ground is covered with dense clumps of Purple Moor Grass and Rushes. The leaf litter, drainage and nitrogen fixing of the Alder, are clearly having a positive impact. It also means more insects, more wildlife and with that increased nutrients and nutrient cycling.

With so much planting, we didn’t want stock, but we started with ducks. The ducks hate the sunny and dry days, they are at their happiest when it is pouring with rain and they love to roam the croft finding the wet pockets. We added hens earlier this year, and they love the cover of the trees and the richer soil. Keeping them safe when we share our croft with foxes, pine martens, otters, mink and both species of eagle is not easy, and stories of predation in the local area are widespread, though we have yet to lose an animal. The cover of the trees and the distance between the crofts here seems to help.

Our aims are to produce food for ourselves, improve our soil, increase shelter and increase biodiversity, making the croft a rich and productive piece of land for us and those that come after. Within a few years we will be producing a surplus to supply local shops, cafes and restaurants with all manner of fruit, herbs, vegetables and teas. We also have large areas of willow coppice for basketry. The most important factor for us here is shelter; due to the topography we are away from the very worst of the gales but still we need our trees to keep the worst of the winds away, increase soil temperature and of course feed the ever-improving soil.

In a few short years of management, we have a couple of thriving orchards and our areas of grassland are becoming ever richer in plant and insect diversity. We have recorded over 244 species of moth on the croft and birdlife includes cuckoo, whinchat, stonechat, redpoll, snipe and a good number of migrant warblers. Year on year we notice an increase, this year we had our first breeding attempts of spotted flycatcher, whitethroat and blackcap as our habitats steadily improve.

Our difficulty is that our multi-functional small holding approach isn’t eligible for much if any subsidy, as all of the pockets of habitats are small and poorly defined, and we don’t have any livestock, which most subsidies seem to be geared towards. We have had some help though, and are grateful to the Woodland Trust for helping us with an additional 1,700 trees, mostly hedging but also increasing our range of species by underplanting our existing woods and filling in some wet and rocky corners. Many of the species we have recently planted would have struggled in a bare-land planting scheme, and need the first level of woodland and cover to be established. Shrubs are often forgotten, and we have grown on from local native seed honeysuckle, ivy, dog rose, guelder rose as well as gorse and broom. We love collecting local tree seed each year and grow on over 1000 trees each winter in our small tree nursery.

 

Why NFFN so important

This is an important time for crofting. Uncertainty over Brexit and the future of subsidies in these marginal areas is always being raised. Meanwhile, the average age of crofters continues to grow, and the number of those actively crofting continues to drop. As more crofters look to diversification, we need organisations like the NFFN to showcase and help support the good work already being done and to raise awareness of the huge potential that the Highlands and Islands offer in terms of local sustainable food and abundant wildlife.  These two can go hand in hand.

 

Why I joined the NFFN

For a new entrant like myself, I found it difficult to find similar projects. Most events and gatherings are geared heavily towards livestock. There is fantastic expertise in this sector here, but for me it is not economically viable to start out with cattle or sheep, as we don’t have any of the right infrastructure and while establishing our hedges and orchards it simply wasn’t compatible.

I would like to help make the NFFN a recognisable presence on the Isle of Skye and throughout the region, and under its banner unite all of the hard-working crofters who already do so much for wildlife, and for those wanting to do more and to learn. Importantly, I want to bring back some of the social and collective sharing side of crofting that seems to have dipped away in the past generation or so.

@wildlifecroft Instagram

5860_67 NFFN Photography Competition!
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NFFN are excited to have launched our monthly photography competition, so grab you phone or camera and get snapping!

Nature friendly farmers across the UK have much to be proud of and we want you to share your favourite, farming, farm wildlife and landscape images with us so we can help spread the word that farming with nature can go hand in hand.

Our UK farmer steering group will pick the winning image each month which will be featured in our 2021 NFFN calendar.  We may also use entries on social media and e-newsletters to promote the fantastic work nature friendly farmers are doing for farming, nature and the environment.

Please email your entries, which must be landscape orientation, to info@nffn.org.uk and tell us which farm you took the photo on and where it is in the UK.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

Many congratulations to our winners so far:

September 2019 winner Rhys Evans for this incredible image of sphagnum moss

Sandra Angers-Blondin our October 2019 winner who took this fantastic image at Lynbreck Croft, Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 2019 winner Sorcha Lewis, who took this beautiful photo at her farm in the Elan Valley Wales.

 

 

December 2019 winner Julie Baber with this great winter scene, on Pigsmoor Farm in Somerset.

 

January 2020 winner Michael Meharg of an Irish Moiled heifer in the snow, Northern Ireland

 

February winner Hedley Wright with this beautiful photograph of a reed bunting.

 

March Winner David Daw with this delightful photograph

 

April Winner Jane Law. This great photo was taken at Castle Farm, Arkengarthdale, North Yorkshire and the wall has become a sheepfold.

 

May winner Chris Tomson with this fantastic photo of a small tort.

June Winner Anthony Curwen with this brilliant corn bunting image

July winner Mike Crawshaw with this beautiful landscape.

August winner Helen Neave with her belties in North Yorkshire.

5762_68 Tree Sparrow Villages and Barn Owl Abodes
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Farmers and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust working in partnership to create new homes for declining bird species

Barn owls and tree sparrows have both suffered huge declines over the last 50 years due partly to agricultural intensification and also habitat loss. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is trying to halt this decline by engaging with farmers, landowners, other organisations and local people. Through sharing of best practice, group learning and identifying how farmers can work together at a landscape scale, farming practices are being adapted to benefit wildlife, whilst maintaining productive farms.

In April 2018 the Trust established the Arden Farm Wildlife Network specifically with the aim of supporting local farmers to create bigger, better, more joined up areas that benefit wildlife. One of the network’s projects is to help the barn owl population here in Warwickshire. The farmers in the network are committing to managing their land more sympathetically for barn owls by providing the right habitat for their food and creating corridors in the landscape for them to travel. The Trust is providing new nest boxes in the Arden Farm Area so the barn owls have safe and secure homes.

Barns owls are site faithful and will stay in their home range for their whole lives so if we can provide nest boxes and look after the landscape to benefit their needs we will help to maintain their population in Warwickshire for future generations. Looking after our barn owls means that many other small creatures and plants benefit as well.

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has also secured a grant for £17,380 from Severn Trent’s ‘Boost for Biodiversity Fund’ to support the delivery of an exciting new project to create ‘Tree sparrow villages’. These will be on 11 farms within the Arden Farm Wildlife Network. Tree sparrows are a rarer cousin of the house sparrow, which is more often encountered in our towns and cities. As tree sparrows nest in colonies they need nesting boxes in groups and enough food to support a number of birds. The Trust will be working with farmers to sow wildflower seed mixes on their farms. These flowers will provide pollen and nectar for insects and seeds, both a key part of a tree sparrows diet. The funds also support the provision of supplementary feed, similar people feeding birds in their garden – but on a much bigger scale! This will help provide enough food for the tree sparrows over the cold winter months when many otherwise struggle. The seed provided over the winter will also help a range of other farmland bird species, many of which are also in decline.

The funding provides a life line for tree sparrows in Warwickshire as their numbers have crashed over the last few decades. The project will create 11 hectares of new wild bird seed habitat and five hectares of pollen and nectar seed mix, so as well as tree sparrows a range of other species that are threatened in Warwickshire will benefit too. The farmers in the network are passionate about helping to conserve wildlife in the local area.

The Arden Farm Wildlife Network now covers nearly half the western side of Warwickshire with farms working together. For example neighbouring farms collaborate on creating rough grasslands to benefit voles which birds of prey need to eat, buffer strips for pollinators, or good river habitat for water voles. Through these actions so much more is gained compared to the fragmented approaches of the past.

There are now 30 members of the group ranging from small holdings up to large estates such as Ragley Hall (host of the Game Fair), Upton and Merevale Estates along with family farms and other landowners including the Heart of England Forest. Collectively the group farms nearly 9,000 hectares in Warwickshire.

The project is farmer-led so since the project start in April 2018 we’ve been consulting farmers to find out what they are interested in learning about. In 2018 we ran seven training events, covering a range of subjects including improve grass margins for wildlife and how to manage your farm more effectively for barn owls, including habitats, barn owl boxes and ecology. In 2019 nearly twenty training events are being planned and delivered.

In a post-Brexit world, farmers may be supported by the Government to help put nature into recovery through creating habitat and supporting biodiversity – so-called ‘public goods’. The way this project provides advice and shares ideas is proving a great way of making a big impact for wildlife recovery in Warwickshire.

5753_69 NFFN Meet The Team! Michael Meharg NFFN NI Vice Chair
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Michael Meharg farms a 250 ha suckler cow enterprise in county Antrim which includes conservation on a number of protected sites in NI. Passionate about the environment and rare breeds and with a background in ecology Michael facilitates work with farmers in the Lough Neagh area Environmental Farming Scheme focusing on delivering for priority habitats and breeding waders. Michael is interested in how the public and the market can better support nature friendly farming produce across Northern Ireland.

At Fortfarm Michael runs a traditional ‘suckler cattle’ herd which help graze Slievnacloy, which is an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) due to the species rich grasslands and rare species found there. calves are born from April each year to a herd of mainly pedigree Irish Moiled Cattle. This traditional breed, with its wide foraging ability, is ideally suited to grazing natural grassland in marginal settings, providing perfect conditions for wildflowers, orchids, butterflies and moths, as well as fungi, bird life, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Michael has used his high-quality end product to develop growing market for grass-fed beef through direct sales to high end users including hotels, restaurants, cruise ships and private sales.

Why do you support nature friendly farming?

Nature friendly farming is vital to the biodiversity of our Islands. Ireland is an island, off an island on the western fringe of a continent with its own unique biodiversity and landscapes. These were formed by thousands of years of farming activity and the wildlife and landscapes we cherish today are dependent on sustainable farming to protect and enhance the current habitats and populations of resident and migrant species.

What nature friendly farming practices have you done on your farm?

I’ve Planted 4km of hedges. And around 1.5ha woodland with 2000 trees planted in 2019. We manage our grasslands with zero artificial fertilizer input and have fenced off 1.5 km of riparian strips for water quality. Recently we’ve incorporated micro generation of power – 20kw Solar farm we manage our grasslands sensitively for nature by delaying cutting to protect the Irish hare.

Our stock is an important tool in our conservation management with a herd of traditional Irish Moiled cattle which is a Rare Breeds Survival Trust focus species. The herd is used to graze 90ha of flood plain for resilience and water retention following heavy rains. We also graze 150 ha of upland priority habitat grassland Area of Special Scientific Interest. Much of what has been delivered has been through government funded agri environment schemes.

 What has the impact been? 

As a result of our conservation grazing, we’ve managed a threefold increase in stocking levels, as Irish Moiled Cattle have less of an impact on the land when compared to continental breeds.

Public support for environmental land management has provided a valuable income stream whilst we make around £30 000 per year from beef/ weaned calves sales. Implementing renewable energy has provided income of £5000 per annum from ROCs, direct sales whilst we also made savings on farm electricity costs. As a result of moving to a low input grazing regime we’ve achieved a reduction in contractor costs for artificial and slurry spreading of £4500 per annum. Our hardy native breeds are more resilient allowing for a reduction in veterinary bills. We’ve developed a growing market for our grass-fed beef through direct sales to high end users including hotel, restaurant, cruise ship and private sales.

 What role do you see farmers playing in protecting nature?

Continuing the long service to maintaining our landscape and providing habitats for our wildlife – nature needs a range of farming activities, grazing, forestry and arable, to retain the wide range of habitats and landscapes that are integral to maintaining our nature – but this must be managed in a sustainable manner and needs support to fulfil this role.

Food production runs alongside this service as does carbon capture, flood alleviation and other ecosystem services. More recently farmers have become major players in production of green energy from solar and wind, another contribution to reduction in fossil fuels.

Why does nature friendly farming need government support?

Current policy is still too focused on production and increased output with not enough emphasis on working with the environment. Northern Ireland are currently in the process of developing future policies regarding both agriculture and the environment, they need to make the most of the opportunity to create policies with a central focus on environmental delivery through nature friendly farming. It is essential that policy reflects this coming together and that future farming policy reflects the role environment and protection of natural assets has in underpinning our landscapes and cultural heritage. Food security and sustainable production are important and in a post Brexit climate may bring opportunities for more locally sourced foods and supply chains of quality products from our natural environment. Policy should not support food or products from areas of the world eg tropical rain forest, coming to Britain and Ireland when we can produce these ourselves.

What’s the biggest threat to farmers post Brexit?

Being in Northern Ireland, I have concerns regarding agri food balance with competition from neighbouring farmers in the Republic of Ireland who will receive more subsidies and will not be subject to beef export tariffs. There’s also the risk of competition from other countries with lower welfare and environmental regulations, depending on future trade agreements. I’m also worried about the dilution of our laws regarding environmental protection for wildlife and the potential of a rise in costs for essential inputs.

5747_70 Herbal Ley Hay Case Study
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Forage – silage and hay, by Callum Weir

We had a buzzword for the 2019 forage season at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate – patchwork. Instead of cutting a whole field of silage, we cut half of two fields. Instead of one cut of hay, we did four. Instead of cutting every blade of grass, we left the awkward corners. The idea is that we don’t decimate the habitats of a whole area, even to a field scale. However, this is not easy. It is more risky, more difficult and more time consuming. Nevertheless, we have managed to cut and cart 600 bales of silage and 400 bales of hay between the end of May and the end of August.

Silage is a funny one. People think it is bad, but I am not so sure. I think an early cut of herbal ley silage, which is then left for the rest of the season, can provide good quality forage and leave plenty of time for birds like skylarks and corn buntings to raise a brood in the regrowth. On the other hand, a cut of hay in July may interrupt that brood and not leave time for another. Everything in moderation, and in patchwork!

One undeniably bad thing about silage is the plastic wrap. Each bale has 2kg of wrap, which means we produce 1.2mt of plastic waste from our feed alone. As a result, we have explored ways to reduce this. Firstly, this year we worked with our waste company and now recycle the wrap. Having introduced a recycling skip onto the farm we have halved our general waste. This amazing percentage will only increase as we head into the winter and use more silage when the livestock are housed.

In addition, this year, we also tried herbal ley hay. I was hoping this would create a happy medium between the feed quality of our herbal ley silage and the plastic-free nature of our parkland hay. However, there is a risk that hay-making process knocks all the dry, brittle leaves from the clovers, chicory and lucerne which would leave an unpalatable bale of stems. We managed to avoid this by cutting when we had a decent and hot forecast ahead of us, and tedding the ley out before the dew lifted within a few hours of cutting. The results show that this trial was a great success, with herbal ley hay having 20% more protein than parkland hay with no extra cost. This should help our pasture-fed, rare breed livestock finish to a high standard and confirmation. As a result of the trial, next year we will reduce our silage use by around 30% (or 400kg of plastic) and replace this with the herbal ley hay.

2019 Herbal Ley Hay Trial results

Forage Protein (g/kg) Energy (MJ/kg) Digestibility (%) Plastic wrap per bale (kg)
Herbal ley silage 145 10.5 66 2
Herbal ley hay 101 7.1 44 0
Parkland hay 80 7.4 46 0

 

For more information on herbal leys, as part of the FABulous Farmers project, the Soil Association are hosting a Herbal Ley Learning Network Event on the 13th of November in Somerset. To register, please visit; https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/fab-farmers-herbal-leys-learning-network-event-tickets-76907834403.

5743_71 NFFN Wales: Our response to the Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation
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We asked our NFFN Wales farmer members to share their thoughts and ideas with us on the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation. Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond, please see our consultation response below:

NFFN Wales SFAOL Response

5667_72 How to Help Achieve Net Zero Carbon Targets: A Practical Guide
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Net zero carbon refers to achieving an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere. Achieving net zero is required to meet the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperatures below a 1.5°C rise above pre-industrial levels. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is less than 12 years to contain global warming within the 1.5°C target.

To achieve the scale of change needed, action must be taken now to reduce emissions and lay the foundations for the longer-term transformation required.

 

 

NFFN have created a practical guide for farmers to help achieve net zero targets. We hope you find this useful.

5630_73 Farming For Our Future: The Climate Change Solution We Urgently Need
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NFFN have launched their latest report “Farming For Our Future: The Nature Friendly Climate Change Solution We Urgently Need

It demonstrates that farmers across the UK need urgent support to respond to the climate emergency and transition to sustainable farming system that will deliver on long-term food security and protect biodiversity and the environment.

Our report, together with the NFFN practical guide to help achieve net-zero carbon targets, show the potential for a sustainable farming system in the UK

Food and farming needs to change on a large scale to support a sustainable future for us all.

Now is the time for nature friendly farming to become mainstream.

Join us now and be part of the solution.

Interested in funding the NFFN to support farmers? Click to find out more…

 

 

5384_74 Farm Wildlife Joins NFFN
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We are pleased to announce that Farm Wildlife is now officially a supporting partner to NFFN. developed with farmers for farmers, Farm Wildlife brings together best practice advice from a broad range of wildlife organisations to identify the 6 most important steps for restoring wildlife on your farm. Why not check out their website today?

 

5350_75 Have Your Say! Welsh Government Farming Consultation
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Welsh Government Farming Consultation: Sustainable Farming and our Land

NFFN Briefing and Members Survey

On 9th July 2019 Welsh Government published their Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation which puts forward revised proposals for how farmers will be supported in the future. This consultation follows their initial proposals contained within last year’s Brexit and our Land consultation.

  • The Welsh Government is now proposing a single scheme to support farmers – the Sustainable Farming Scheme.  This will include 2 support mechanisms;
  • 1. Sustainable Farming Payments that rewards farmers for delivering environmental public goods such as water quality, flood mitigation, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. 
  • 2. Business Support Measures to support efficiency, productivity and farm profitability through the provision of advice, skills development and capital investment.
  • Entry to the new scheme would be via a Farm Sustainability Review carried out by the farmer and an adviser. The product of the review would be a Farm Sustainability Plan, providing the gateway to the two types of support.
  • The Sustainable Farming Payment would replace BPS and Glastir and provide an annual income to farmers in the scheme.
  • Future support should be designed around the principle of sustainability and proposes to pursue an objective of Sustainable Land Management. The framework for new schemes will be the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
  • Advice is seen as in investment in the capacity of farmers rather than a cost to the scheme
  • A multi-year transition period from current schemes to the new scheme is proposed – when this period starts, and ends is yet to be decided due to the Brexit uncertainty.
  • The majority of the budget will likely be for delivering environmental outcomes, as this often brings economic and social outcomes, either directly or indirectly.

 

 

NFFN Wales have created a short survey for our members which will ensure we are representing your views in our response to this consultation. Please spare a few minutes and have your say now!

The consultation runs until 30th October 2019 and the deadline for our survey is the 16th October 2019. The NFFN are responding to the consultation and we look forward to hearing the views of our Welsh farmers!

5211_76 Wildlife Trust Farming Projects
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Many of NFFN Partner Organisations work with farmers. This month we are showcasing the fantastic work that farmers across the UK are doing with The Wildlife Trusts

South Pennines Grasslands Project

Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Wildlife Trust’s South Pennines Grasslands Project is working to restore 200 hectares of species-rich grassland, working with landowners to diversify grassland species by scarifying and seeding, installing field boundaries, providing livestock handling infrastructure and improving access to facilitate land management. They are also hoping to make existing areas of grassland that is good for wildlife bigger, creating a network of meadows. If you have land in the project area, then there may be opportunities to get involved; the project is also looking for volunteers. Find out more here.

 

South Lincolnshire Fenlands Partnership

This partnership aims to restore and recreate up to 800 hectares of Lincolnshire’s lost wild fenlands between Bourne, Spalding and Market Deeping. Working with local landowners, farm tenants and communities, the project is undertaking a programme of habitat restoration including wet grasslands, utilised for grazing and hay production, reedbeds, swampland, wet woodlands and open water. The end result will be a connected wild landscape where wildlife can thrive, with Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves Baston and Thurlby Fens at the centre. Educational, leisure and recreational facilities will also be developed – connecting people to the landscape and their fenland history. See their website for more information.

 

Arden Farm Wildlife Network

The Arden Farm Wildlife Network led by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and Zoe Bell covers 8,500 hectares – around half the western side of Warwickshire – with farmers in this area sharing best practice for managing their farms for wildlife. By collaborating, for example to create rough grassland, benefiting small mammals and in turn birds of prey, or buffer strips for pollinators, this group of farmers achieve a much better result by creating a connected landscape. Find out more here

 

Wild Pollinators Project

Farmers have been working with Worcestershire Wildlife Trust to improve their land to benefit wild insects such as bumblebees. As part of the project commercial farmer, Jonathan Boaz, has been improving his 600-acre farm both for business and wildlife by creating a wet grassland, amongst other measures. The wetland is filtering out the phosphates coming off his fields, preventing it from polluting the nearby river. Wildflowers are also abundant, providing homes and food for pollinators – and dragonflies abound. Find out more about the project here.

 

Farm Cluster around the River Beult

Kent Wildlife Trust in partnership with Southern Water is working to establish a Farm Cluster in the River Beult catchment. A cluster is a group of farmers willing to collaborate in their farming approach, sharing best practice and joining together to achieve a truly wildlife-rich farmed landscape. By working together it is possible to have a much bigger and better impact for local wildlife e.g. improving water quality in the River Beult for fish and insects – and can also help unlock funding from non-Government schemes and provide support in navigating the Government’s ELM scheme. So if you manage land in between Ashford, Biddenden and Bromley Green and are interested then please get in touch: rory.harding@kentwildlife.org.uk.

Boost for barn owls in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s tiny barn owl population has been given a much-needed boost with the discovery of a new nest site in County Down – bringing the known number of active sites up to just three! Two fluffy white chicks recently made their first appearance from a nest box erected almost five years ago by Ulster Wildlife much to the delight of wildlife-friendly farmer and NI chair of NFFN, David Sandford – who’s land the box is on. The chicks have been checked and ringed to help monitor their survival. Ulster Wildlife are running a campaign to help boost their population further. Find out more here.

 

Working Wetlands

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Working Wetlands is part of South West Water’s Upstream Thinking programme, which is working to keep our drinking and bathing water clean – and therefore reduce treatment costs – by stopping pollutants from entering the rivers and streams to begin with. For the last ten years, Working Wetlands has been providing confidential, expert advice and practical solutions to farmers in six Devon catchments – and advisors continue to work with farmers to help address the challenges they face. This include offering free advice and support with applications to the new Countryside Stewardship scheme, as well as being able to offer some capital grants. Typically advice includes helping landowners with reducing pesticide use, riverside fencing, preventing run-off, soil management and habitat restoration. More information is available on Devon Wildlife Trust’s website.

 

Essex Barn Owl Conservation Project

Working with more than 165 land managers over the last six years, Essex Wildlife Trust volunteers have managed to install a staggering 300 nest boxes for barn owls across the county. Monitored annually, with BTO ringing adults and chicks, these boxes are helping to provide a better picture of barn owl numbers and population dynamics. Watch this short video.

 

Upland Skies

Birds of prey in the Peak District are no longer the common sight they once were. Some suffer from illegal persecution, whilst for others, such as merlins and owls, the cause is less clear. The National Lottery Heritage Fund has granted funding to a partnership made up of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, RSPB, National Trust and Peak District National Park Authority to progress a new Upland Skies scheme that is aimed at reversing their fortunes. This will include raising public awareness of the threats faced by birds of prey and inspire people to take action, as well as champion positive land management practices. Find out more here.

Events:

Talk: Farming for the Future – The Heritage Centre, Desborough, NN14 2RS – 10th September, 7:30pm

5206_77 NI Agri-Environment Scheme Update
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Farmers from across Northern Ireland have been notified recently regarding their applications to the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) Higher. This Agri-Environment Scheme provides funding to farmers in priority areas to manage their land in a way which benefits nature and the environment. It provides funding for a range of different options and has been targeted to support environmental land management in some of NI’s most important landscapes.

During the application window, over 900 applications were made to the scheme, demonstrating a desire from farmers to adopt sustainable land management practises within their businesses. However, of this only 298 have been accepted onto the scheme.

NFFN believes that more farmers should be supported to farm sustainably and to access adequate funding for this work. At present, the EFS Higher provides the best mechanism in achieving this and can play a vital role in rewarding environmental land management. This will also play a crucial role in helping farmers to prepare for a new policy focused on environmental delivery. However, NFFNNI is disappointed that a relatively small proportion of eligible applicants have been successful in their scheme applications. NFFN are engaging with the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to address this issue and enable more farmers to avail of agri-environment support in upcoming rounds.

 

 

5202_78 Join the Welsh Steering Group!
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We are looking for passionate Welsh farmers to join our Wales steering group.  If you are interested in joining our fantastic team, please fill in this short application form below and send to info@nffn.org.uk by 13th September 2019.

If you have any questions please get in touch with cheryl.nicholson@nffn.org.uk, tony.davies@nffn.org.uk or Martin.Lines@nffn.org.uk.

NFFN Wales Steering Group – Application Form (1)

5186_79 Wimpole Herbal Leys Case Study
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The summer of 2018 was one of the driest on record; at Wimpole Estate in South Cambridgeshire, there was no rain for 52 days. In other parts of the country, there were serious concerns about grass availability for livestock to eat at that moment, let alone provide a crop for winter fodder. However, the diversity of the species rich herbal leys at Wimpole provided silage yields of just under 5t/ha DM in late May, followed by record results on the rare breed lambs that followed after.

 

Traditionally, the rare breed lambs at Wimpole were sold as store lambs. This was because the lambs were unable to finish on the parkland grass by the time winter came. However in 2018, 90 lambs were weaned onto the herbal leys and seemed to grow by the day. The mixture of Norfolk Horn, Whitefaced Woodland and Oxford Down lambs finished within six months, having spent two months on the herbal leys, with an average deadweight price of £3.62/kg and overall average price just shy of £61/lamb. The majority of the lambs finished in the O3H or R3H category.

 

In addition to providing market spec. rare breed lambs and good silage yields, the herbal leys kept on giving; the late season flowers were great for pollinators and the clouds of goldfinches were seen feeding on the seeds of the chicory and clover…and it was grazed again at the end of the year!

 

With climate change making weather more variable, herbal leys can provide the rooting structure below ground and the quality feed above ground throughout the season that a single species ley could struggled to provide. By adding legumes into herbal ley mixes, they can also fix nutrients into soils, reducing the need for artificial fertiliser as well. To learn more about other ways to reduce input use and increase climate change resilience, follow #FABulousFarmers.

By Callum Weir

5182_80 Get out for the Count!
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Get out for the Count! By Katie Callaghan

This summer marks the 10th anniversary of the Big Butterfly Count – the world’s largest butterfly survey!

Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation is calling on everyone to do as many 15-minute Counts as possible before the end of day on Sunday 11th August.

Download your free ID chart from www.bigbutterflycount.org and record what you see. You can log your results on the website or submit them using the free Big Butterfly Count app.

Last year a record 100,000 participants took part, spotting almost one million butterflies across the UK.

However, research by the charity shows that 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterflies and two-thirds of our larger moths are in decline.

Butterfly Conservation President, Sir David Attenborough, said: “It is vitally important that we gain a clearer picture of how our butterflies are faring. Their ongoing decline tells us that all is not well in the British countryside.

“The Big Butterfly Count is more than just counting butterflies – we’ll be taking the pulse of nature.”

This summer, experts are keen to see how common garden butterflies are faring, as despite many species bouncing back in the 2018 heatwave, colourful favourites such as the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock both recorded poor years.

Butterfly Conservation Vice-President Chris Packham is following in the footsteps of Sir David Attenborough by getting behind the campaign this year.

Chris said: “It’s easy to feel powerless when confronted with endless decline statistics from birds to bees to butterflies, but the fight for our environmental future starts with small acts, it starts with you.

“That’s why I urge you to take part in the Big Butterfly Count this summer. By taking part in the Count you are showing that our butterflies, our wildlife and our environment are worth fighting for.”

5179_81 FABFarmers is coming to the UK!
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FABFarmers

The Soil Association is one of UK the partners in an exciting new project designed to support farmers to transition towards more agroecological practices on their farms. The project aims to assist farmers to increase on-farm efficiency and reduce their reliance on external inputs by increasing the functional agricultural biodiversity (FAB) on their farms. One example of this could be attracting beneficial pest-eating insects by planting infield wildflower strips within cereal crops. Another could be converting monoculture livestock pasture to diverse herbal leys which provide farm-grown fodder at the same time as building soil health. The Soil Association will assist farmers in identifying and adopting relevant practices such as these from the FAB suite of practices.

Working alongside the Soil Association will be the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit (FCCT); the National Trust and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). The project will focus on three pilot regions at first: The South West of England, Pembrokeshire and the East of England.

The aim is to set up learning networks of farmers across the three pilot regions over the next few months. Anyone can join. All you need is an interest in adopting FAB farming practices on your farm and for your farm to be located within the pilot regions. Involvement is completely free as there is secured funding from Interregional North West Europe Programme to carry out this project over the next five years.

If you are interested to find out more on how you can get involved, please contact Liz Bowles lbowles@soilassociation.org for more details.

5051_82 Welsh Cross Party Working Group for Biodiversity re-launched!
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The Nature Friendly Farming Network and Wales Environment Link co-hosted an event at the Senedd in Cardiff to re-launch the Welsh Assembly Cross Party Group for Biodiversity. One of the main aims was to highlight how future farming policies can benefit farmers, nature and the people of Wales. The event was well attended, attracting farmers, conservationists, Assembly Members and Welsh Government officials.

 

John Griffiths AM (The Group’s Chair) opened the event and explained that we face huge challenges in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. The Welsh Government has declared a climate emergency and one of the ways that Assembly Members and stakeholders can discuss these issues is via the Cross-Party Group for Biodiversity.

 

To start off the event a short video was played, showing nature friendly farmers discussing actions they’ve taken on their own land to benefit nature.  Click on the link below to see the video!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLjr6ECxr_0&feature=youtu.be

 

Guest speakers included NFFN Wales’ Tony Davies (Henfron Farm) and Polly Davies (Slade Farm) who outlined some of the excellent work they do for nature on their farms.

 

Tony Davies, Henfron farm, Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network in Wales

Tony Davies, who farms in the uplands of the Elan Valley, was the first of the guest speakers. First and foremost, Tony describes himself as a businessman, but he feels there is still a stigma against “green farming”. Tony feels the wider agricultural industry encourages farmers to produce more all the time, regardless of profitability. Changing this mind-set is important.

Within a couple of years of taking over the family business he converted to organic and cut the sheep flock by 65%. According to Tony, farming in this way is actually more profitable per head of sheep because it is much less labour intensive and reduces the need to purchase fertilizer and animal feed, reducing the cost. The changes that he implemented also improved biodiversity on the farm, which includes valuable habitats such as heather moorland, hay meadows and woodland. These habitats are home to a number of different species, including golden plovers, curlew and lots of butterflies and moths.

Tony explained that he is often asked what he produces on his farm. Whilst his father would have said “lamb”, Tony’s answer might raise a few eyebrows! Tony sees himself as a producer of environmental services or “public goods” such as wildlife habitats, clean water, flood mitigation and carbon sequestration. Yes he farms sheep and cattle, but regards them rather as a high quality by product of the way he manages his land.

 

Polly Davies, Slade Farm, NFFN Steering Group Member

Slade Farm, in the Vale of Glamorgan is a haven for wildlife. The birds, mammals and insects are so visible. But this has only happened through public funding via agri-environment scheme and organic support. Polly highlighted the need to maintain public funding within the industry, but called on money to be better targeted at environmentally friendly farming practices. Drives for efficiency and using every square inch of the land to produce food causes nature to disappear as there is nowhere left for it to live.  We need nature to be valued as a commodity that needs to be invested in.   Farmers need to be part of the solution, but they must be recognised and rewarded for their environmental work.

 

The event demonstrated the key role that farming and farmers have in looking after nature and the environment – something the Welsh Government needs to recognise if we are to reverse wildlife declines in Wales.

5044_83 Welsh Farming Policy Update
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On June 4th the Welsh Government issued the following documents and statements relating to the Brexit and our Land consultation, which outlined how WG will replace the Common Agricultural Policy in Wales:

12,203 responses were submitted to the first Brexit and our Land consultation, and the Welsh Government made a statement explaining how it has amended its policy proposals in response to the consultation.  The statement includes:

  • A clear message the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is ending as the UK leaves the EU, with future payments aimed at those who manage land, rather than land ownership.
  • WG will combine the previously proposed Economic Resilience and Public Goods schemes into a single sustainable farming scheme
  • This new scheme will include two support measures.

o   Sustainable Farm Payments will pay farmers to deliver public goods such as improving air and water quality, storing carbon, enhancing wildlife and mitigating flood risk.

o   Business Development Measures will support farmers to improve profitability and efficiency, for example through investing in technology, infrastructure or farm equipment, and offering training and advice.

  • The Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 will form the basis of future policy, with the with the overall objective of delivering sustainable land management.

As of yet, no decisions have been made on the timetable for reform because of Brexit uncertainty.  Furthermore, there will be no changes until a further consultation and relevant impact assessments have been completed.  We are expecting WG to launch its next consultation in early July, prior to the Royal Welsh Show.  NFFN Wales will be responding to the consultation and will be in touch with members over the summer to ask for views and comments. So, watch this space!

5036_84 Agroforestry – providing a win win for farming and the environment
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Helen Chesshire, from our advisory partner The Woodland Trust talks agroforestry…

Why should farmers consider agroforestry?  Whether you are an arable or livestock farmer, agroforestry – integrating trees into your farming system – offers multiple benefits.  It can boost productivity, increase wildlife, improve soil health and animal welfare, manage water flow and contribute to climate change mitigation.  Agroforestry can deliver while avoiding potential trade-offs between food production and public goods that occur in many modern farming systems.

There is a lot of talk about trees being a major solution to climate change, from the NFU to the Climate Change Committee.  The latter has firmly put trees on farms into its plans for the UK to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.   This should not be seen by farmers as a threat to food production but instead as an opportunity to improve resilience and performance of farm enterprises.

The interest in silvopasture – planting trees in livestock systems for shade, shelter and browsing – is gaining momentum.  Both the ‘beast from the east’ and last summer’s drought highlighted the benefits of having natural shade and shelter available.  The drought also highlighted the value of tree browse.   A well designed scheme provides many public goods – including enhanced biodiversity and a solution to climate change.

Silvoarable – planting trees in arable systems – can diversify and spread risk by providing an alternative tree crop in the form of fruit, nuts or timber.  It can also deliver environmental services; preventing soil erosion, improving water management and providing habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects alongside public goods. 

Find out more at Groundswell 2019 on 26th & 27th June.    It is an opportunity to join future focused farmers and growers at the UK’s leading annual Conservation Agriculture event hosted at Lannock Manor Farm in Hertfordshire.   The Woodland Trust is attending this event for the 1st time and can be found on stand FY2 situated just outside the main conference barn where we also be hosting the NFFN.  The WT will be running two seminars on agroforestry on Wednesday 26th June.

There is a growing band of farmers who have planted agroforestry systems into their farms and they and nature are reaping the benefits.  See their inspirational stories here Agroforestry in practice.

Let us help you plant trees on your farm. Visit woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant for more information.

5024_85 Farmer Tom Bowser talks about the NFFN Holyrood Event in his latest blog
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Last week the Nature Friendly Farming Network hosted a reception at the Scottish Parliament. MSPs and members of the farming and conservation communities joined us to discuss ways in which farming can help tackle climate change and biodiversity declines.
Our host for the evening, Tavish Scott MSP, gave everyone a warm welcome before handing over to Mairi Gougeon MSP. Her keynote speech hit all the right notes. She spoke of the challenges we face and reaffirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to fighting for our environment. The final speaker of the night, the NFFN’s Scottish vice-Chair, Lynn Cassells, delivered a rousing address, demonstrating the ways in which she farms for nature and the ways that nature improves her business.
It’s a difficult time for farming; uncertainty over Brexit is causing great anxiety, but this was a remarkably positive event filled with constructive dialogue. The Scottish Government is committed to tackling climate change, and has promised to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2045. With farmland making up over 70% of Scotland’s countryside, it’s clear that farmers can help the government achieve this goal. This reception marked the start of what we hope will be a long and fruitful working relationship between the NFFN and policy makers. Now the real work begins. We must collaborate to devise policies that encourage farming to reduce its carbon emissions and improve biodiversity. By working together we can do it. Farming can help Scotland meet its climate obligations.
4726_86 NFFN Farmer Case Study: Neil Heseltine, Hill Top Farm, Malham, North Yorkshire
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Neil was born and brought up at Hill Top Farm, Malham in North Yorkshire, where he now farms with his partner Leigh. In 2003, as part of a conservation grazing scheme, Neil re-introduced 20 Belted Galloway cattle to join the Swaledale sheep flock. This proved to be a defining time in terms of farm ethos and mind-set, as he sought more sustainable and environmentally friendly production methods.

 

Why do you support nature friendly farming?

We support nature friendly farming because it is better for nature and for wildlife. Agriculture has impacted on natural wildlife populations over the last 30-40 years, and not in a good way. I would like to do something to reverse this.

Farming used to be a part of nature – or even a product of nature. We were working with nature to produce food. In recent years this has changed. We are now working against nature to produce more, or grow things at unnatural times of year. This has put the farming industry in a worse position.

We have chosen to focus on the natural and sustainable farming route on our farm. For us it is not only a more profitable way of farming, but also more sustainable, from an environmental and economic point of view. We are more likely to be still farming in 10, 20, 100 years’ time if we don’t try to work against nature. Unsustainable practices have a finite lifespan.

 

What nature friendly farming approaches have you implemented on your farm?

We have reduced our overall stocking density. Fourteen years ago we had 800 sheep. We have reduced this and also brought in cattle. We now have a breeding herd of 30 cattle and 190 sheep. The farm averages 120 cattle and 300 sheep on farm at any time, over an area of 1,100 acres.

Our upland farm is 80% above the moorland line, so we raise breeds particularly suited to this environment, including hardy Galloway Cattle and Swaledale sheep.

We now manage the land for wildlife and biodiversity. For example, we mow our meadows much later in the year. They are now cut in mid-July at the earliest, which means they have a minimum 10-week period in the summer without grazing. This creates a habitat for ground nesting birds and allows plants to flower and release their seeds.

 

What impact has this had?

By reducing the stocking rate, switching to cattle grazing and changing the times of grazing, we have changed the environment dramatically. Botanically, it is very different. A lot of plants have returned, including rock rose, birds eye primrose, scabious, wild thyme, spearmint, bluebells. We never used to see these species.

We never used to have barn owls, now the RSPB ring chicks every year. I used to see a hare about once a year, now see a hare one in three days. There are also more skylarks, redshanks and curlews.

Reduced stocking pressure has also allowed the grass to grow longer, which may help prevent flooding downstream. We have also put in several mechanisms for natural flood management.

Reduced stocking density has had a positive impact on our profits. Overall output has decreased, income from agriculture has decreased, but we have become more profitable. This is because the costs of production are so much less. Fewer sheep means we don’t need to buy in concentrates or feeds. We don’t need extra people to help on the farm. We turned this farm from a loss-making to a profit-making enterprise. And this is before you take any support mechanisms into account.

 

Why does nature friendly farming need government support?

We need to change direction. Farming, farmers and the environment are not in good position. Government support for nature friendly farming would change the goal. The current goal is food production, which is important, but this should be done with the environment and nature at forefront of our minds.

 

What’s the value of bringing farmers together in the NFFN?

Together we can show government that there are farmers that support nature friendly farming which can have a positive impact on agriculture, wildlife, nature conservation and landscape.

There is currently a misconception that you have to be either or – you are either a commercial farmer or a nature friendly farmer. My belief is that to be a successful commercial farmer you need to go down a nature friendly route. It’s not just a binary choice, the two are inextricably linked.

 

On Instagram and Twitter – @hilltopfarmgirl

4631_87 NFFN Farmer Case Study, Sorcha Lewis, Elan Valley Wales
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Sorcha Lewis is on the NFFN Steering Group for Wales, we asked her to tell us about her farm in the Elan Valley and share her thoughts on nature friendly farming…

 

Sorcha and Brian Lewis are third generation tenant farmers living at Troedrhiwdrain Farm with their two small children.  Troedrhiwdrain (meaning ‘at the foot of the thorny bank’), is a 580ha family upland farm.

The Elan Valley located in Mid Wales is a mosaic of moorland, woodland and reservoirs held back by grand Victorian dams. The Welsh Water Elan Valley Trust is a charitable Trust which holds a 999 year lease over of much of the water catchment and are the landlords for the farming community that live there.

Over the last 10 years Brian and Sorcha have developed the productivity of the farm, whilst successfully retaining and incorporating many important habitats, including hay meadows, ffridd and rhos pasture.

Due to its location within the water catchment for the water supply to Birmingham, the farm has been managed as low impact for generations, with no inorganic fertilisation of the ground, just sheep or cattle manure. This careful management, along with the range of habitats, means the farm hosts a wealth of rare plants including various species of orchid, round leaved sundews, wood bitter vetch, mountain pansy and globe flowers.

A number of traditional breeds are used on the farm including Badger faced Welsh Mountain, Welsh Mountain and Herdwick sheep. Consideration has also been given to introduce cattle as a management tool for the rhos pasture to further benefit a number of species.

One valuable and increasingly rare habitat found on the farm are the traditional hay meadows, 97% of which have been lost across England and Wales since the 1930s. These help produce quality slow-grown lambs which feed on the herb-rich swards.

Sorcha and Brian manage the farm with nature in mind, creating habitats to benefit nature as well as the farm business; they have increased the area of ffridd found around the farm. Ffridd is a habitat found on the land between the enclosed fields and the open hill, typically steeply sloping and dominated by scrub, these areas are difficult to manage but provide an important wildlife habitat.

The Ffridd areas around Troedrhiwdrain are home to populations of declining bird species including ring ouzel, red grouse and cuckoo. They are also home to the Welsh clearwing moth which has been identified as a biodiversity priority by the Welsh Government, birch trees are being planted at Troedrhiwdrain to provide suitable habitat for this important population of these wasp like, day flying moths.

As well as maintaining and enhancing the existing habitats new habitats have been added including a pond which was created in 2005 which has already attracted priority species including water vole and otter.

Troedrhiwdrain is a fine example of High Nature Value (HNV) farming and highlights the importance of grazing for creating and maintaining valuable wildlife habitats in Wales. Agri-environment schemes can be an important means of support for this type of environmentally friendly farming and Troedrhiwdrain is currently included in the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme.

Sorcha and Brian are hoping to enter the new scheme Glastir Advanced, when their Tir Gofal scheme ends this year, so they can continue their excellent work and receive just reward for providing society with a wide range of environmental benefits in return for their publically funded agri-environment scheme payments.

 

Why do you support nature friendly farming?

Much of upland hill farming in this area has evolved within this beautiful yet remote (and sometimes harsh) environment. We have always worked within our constraints and for this we have seen many wonderful plant, insect and animal species. Many of these are rare and important to Wales and the UK.

We support wildlife friendly farming because we feel a responsibility to generations to come. Knowing what we have and how important it is means we feel a responsibility to share the diversity that is here in the Welsh uplands.

Nature friendly farming is important to the public. From protecting our pollinating insects to ensuring the public can enjoy and appreciate the landscape, these farming communities are making a positive difference and should be supported.

The food produced on this environment grows slowly, and profits are not as great when you farm these smaller native breeds. Yet their impact and relationship with the land can be so much more and that benefit is not often considered. I feel farmers who consider the environment should be rewarded and celebrated. Farming has often received a rather bad press, yet many farmers are protecting and managing our landscape.

 

What nature friendly farming approaches have you implemented on your farm?

We manage the land through our farm schemes: TirGofal and now Glastir. We have created hedgerows and a pond, managed the meadow, put up bird boxes and owl boxes, and managed the rhos pasture. We have held some open days for events about meadows, water voles and small mammals.

We have also undertaken work with the Welsh Government Nature Fund to promote the importance of farming and wildlife with our neighbour who was turning Molinia (purple moor grass) into biochar. We have grown some rare plants and hope to use these to get them back to areas where they have disappeared. We survey meadows each year to record the type and location of rare flowers.

 

What impact has this had?

The impact has been positive. While we do not collect data on this, we can say that we have had some new and exciting species in the last few years, which were never previously recorded on the farm, some of them rare. This includes the tormentil mining bee, the Welsh clearwing moth, and the small-white orchid.

As the farm is so wildlife rich we have led events and educated public about the value of meadows. We run biodiversity days, and aim to demonstrate just how much wildlife diversity can be found on a working upland hill farm.

 

What role do you see farmers playing in protecting nature?

Farmers have a huge role to play in protecting nature. There is a vast area of UK land which could be managed for food and for wildlife. There is potential for farmers to connect our landscape together, something which is increasingly important as it becomes more fragmented.

 

Why does nature friendly farming need government support?

Farmers are protecting water, by planting trees and corridors, creating species rich areas, protecting our upland bogs and being involved in rewetting projects.

Agriculture is steeped in the local community and history, creating the landscapes which are attractive to tourists. People come from a long way to walk, go to farm events and enjoy the environment.

There is such a variety in farming systems in the UK. We need support for the work that we do to address climate change, protect wildlife, ensure clean water and promote tourism. Smaller scale producers need help in promoting their products.

We also need help promoting unique British and Welsh products, demonstrating they are beneficial for the landscape, wildlife and people, as well as providing nourishing food.

People are engaging with the issues, thinking about the future and what is possible. Right now, people are asking questions and thinking about our whole environment. We need to say ‘this is important’ now, before we end up with policies which focus only on production and the economic benefits. Environmental benefits cannot always be valued economically.

 

What’s the biggest threat to British farmers post Brexit?

Brexit threatens upland farming by pushing us into a situation where young people are discouraged from getting into the business, and people abandon farms, because it is too difficult or the funding and support is not there. We need a vision everyone can work towards.

 

What’s the value of bringing farmers together in the NFFN? 

By creating a network we can share knowledge, voice different opinions and share understanding of other farming systems. We want to show that there are farmers that really care about their environment. Together we can support each other and motivate each other to succeed, building a robust, nurturing and sustainable farming system in the UK.

4613_88 Farm Yield Network ASSIST – Get Involved
4613

An opportunity has arisen for farmers to get involved in the Farm Yield Network Assist! Please read on to find out more…

Farm Yield Network ASSIST (www.assist.ceh.ac.uk/) is a five-year research programme funded by the UK Research Councils and supported by the farming industry. Its aim is to develop and test innovative, sustainable farming systems to increase the efficiency of UK farming, and improve its resilience to environmental change. ASSIST is co-led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (https://www.ceh.ac.uk/), an independent, not-for-profit research organisation.

Precision yield data provides valuable information on the limitations on crop yields within fields and the effectiveness of management practices to overcome these. It can also be used for cost-effective location of agri-environment schemes and resource protection. ASSIST is currently running a pilot scheme to develop techniques to automatically collect, clean and analyse large volumes of precision crop yield data across the UK. We have also designed data analysis routines to identify consistent patterns in the yield data and link these to a range of bio-physical factors at the field and landscape scale, including soil moisture, microtopography, shading from hedges, diversity of crop pollinators and climate variables etc.

Based on the results of this pilot we now want to expand this network to provide wider benefits to the farming industry.

What we want to do:

1) Establish a network of leading farmers explore consistent patterns in crop yield data and link these to bio-physical attributes, such as soil moisture, microtopography, climate data etc.;

2) Work with farmers to develop simple and intuitive reporting of precision yield data to give them the information they most need;

3) Ultimately, provide an anonymised*, real-time yield monitoring network to measure the impacts of factors such as droughts and pest outbreaks on crop yields across the UK.

Why should you get involved?

  • De-mystifying precision yield data;
  • No fuss, no hassle collection of data via cloud services, such as Claas Telematics™ or similar;
  • Cleaning of the yield data for your farm;
  • Bespoke analysis of crop yield patterns and bio-physical factors for sample fields on your farm.

Getting involved:

  • Contact Professor Richard Pywell (rfp@ceh.ac.uk) at Centre for Ecology & Hydrology on how to get involved;
  • Invite CEH to share your yield data via the cloud.

*Note that under no circumstances we will not pass on your data to third parties and we will always protect the anonymity of the participants. As a Government-funded research organisation we adhere fully to GDPR legislation. We are happy to sign non-disclosure agreements with participants if required

3605_89 NFFN Farmer Case Study: Michael Clarke Dumfriesshire, Scotland
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Michael Clarke is the NFFN Chair for Scotland, we asked him to tell us about his farm in Dumfriesshire and share his thoughts on nature friendly farming…

In partnership with my wife, I farm about 300 acres of lowland grass on heavy land near Gretna Green. We keep around 50 Highland, Beef Shorthorn and Simmental cross cows, from which we produce 18 month old calves for the store and breeding markets and about 200 pedigree Lleyn ewes, from which we produce breeding and fat lambs.

The enterprises and our business model are significantly underpinned by the revenue from 4 on-farm self-catering cottages. We also have a small pedigree Highland pony stud.

A former professional land manager, I started my working life as a farm labourer in Wiltshire and scrambled onto the bottom rung as a part-time farmer about 30 years ago. With a life-long love of nature, I relished the chance to demonstrate how nature and food production can go hand-in-hand when we scraped together enough money to buy Williamwood, with a mortgage, not quite 10 years ago. We bought it because of its varied and mature habitats and its potential, with a lot of “tender loving care”, to showcase both.

 

Why do you support nature friendly farming?

If nature-friendly farming were to become the norm, instead of the exception, we would have a countryside bursting with bio-diversity, at the same time as being in full production and we would leave a legacy which our successors deserve and for which they would thank us. Time is not on our side but better late than never.

 

What nature friendly farming approaches have you implemented and what impact has this had?

The results from our efforts with hedge planting, pond creation, nest boxes, predator control and habitat management which respects breeding birds and wildflowers are exciting but probably little more than a taste of the full potential. Tree sparrows, otters, red squirrels, lapwings, curlews, snipe, woodpeckers and brown hares are just a few of the species that are flourishing because of our measures.

 

What role do you see farmers playing in protecting nature?

I believe that farmers have a huge responsibility to nurture the countryside and its flora and fauna for future generations from all walks of life, not just our immediate families.

We are uniquely placed to discharge that burden of trust but it requires sustained effort, expertise and expense which not all farmers are in a position to provide, especially in difficult economic and weather-related conditions.

 

Why does nature friendly farming need government support?

In the absence of market support, greater support from the Government is essential if more farmers are to “step up to the plate”.

Individual, isolated farmers, however enlightened and motivated they might be, can only do so much on their individual farms. Support which facilitates linkages between farms and begins to “join up the dots” across the country could spread the benefits of nature-friendly farming like wildfire and be a compelling example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

 

Why is Brexit an important opportunity for nature friendly farming?

Brexit provides a seminal opportunity to kick-start that process and to foster a cultural revolution in the farming community in which nature-friendly farming is embraced with as much enthusiasm as livestock showing, big machinery and food production, rather than remaining as the poor relation and “Cinderella” of the industry.

Failure to seize that opportunity would see nature-friendly farming further relegated to a fringe activity carried out against the odds, by the few, with diminishing localised impact.

 

What’s the biggest threat to British farmers post Brexit?

In the interests of those who come after us, this is a fight we cannot afford to lose. We need to turn the tide and we need Government help to do that. It is not clever to be-little or snigger at nature-friendly farming as a minority sport for well-meaning eccentrics. For example, if  we did not provide the right environment for tree sparrows, their numbers would continue to decline to perilous levels.

Positive management measures which deliver public benefits require financial support and encouragement.

 

What’s the value of bringing farmers together in the NFFN?

Nature-friendly farming is a way of life at Williamwood, born out of personal conviction that it is the responsible way to farm and reinforced by the economic imperative of our sustainable business model.

The vision is of a profitable farm, bursting with a bio-diversity which is attractive to visitors and wildlife alike. We need people to come to our cottages to fuel the economic engine which enables us to steward our bit of the British countryside to the best of our ability, with support from the Government, the RSPB, the Woodland Trust, the Red Squirrel Survival Trust and many other bodies and individuals who inspire and support our work here.

We love to show our paying and non-paying visitors how their food can be produced to high welfare standards, using modern methods, in a countryside which harks back at least a generation, if not more. It is “work in progress” and there is much still to do but every day we do a little more, against a grand plan, to further the interests of nature-friendly farming.

Bring on the NFFN and let’s make sure this movement becomes central to policy and our future.

3371_90 NFFN NI: Our Response to the Consultation, Future Agriculture Policy in Northern Ireland
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Thank you to all of our members who provided feedback on the Future Agriculture Policy in Northern Ireland consultation. Please see our response below:

NFFN DAERA Response

3360_91 NFFN Wales: Our Response to Brexit and Our Land
3360

Back in August we asked our NFFN Wales farmer members to share their thoughts and ideas with us on the Welsh Government Consultation Brexit and Our Land. Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond, please see our consultation response below:

NFFN Wales Brexit and our Land Response

3053_92 Have Your Say on Future Agriculture Policy in Northern Ireland
3053

We now have a huge opportunity in Northern Ireland to make Nature Friendly Farming the future. The Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs DAERA) have recently released their proposals for the future of agricultural policy in Northern Ireland and would like input from all relevant stakeholders. We cannot miss this significant opportunity to transform Northern Irish agriculture, to help farms evolve and thrive, whilst restoring and protecting our natural heritage.

 

With this, we encourage all members of the Nature Friendly Farming Network to respond to this important engagement. The more we make our voices heard, the more DAERA will listen to those of us who are calling for a radical change in food and farming policy.

 

You can make your voice heard through by participating with our partners in Nature Matters Northern Ireland through their online e-action which can be found here: https://e-activist.com/page/27490/action/1?ea.tracking.id=email

 

Or by submitting your own detailed response through the DAERA website which can be found here: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/consultations/northern-ireland-future-agricultural-policy-framework

3044_93 NFFN Response to the Stability and Simplicity Consultation
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Stability and Simplicity Consulation – NFFN Response

3034_94 Brexit and Our Land – Welsh Consultation
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On July 10th the Welsh Government released its consultation “Brexit and our Land”, which explains the basis on which the WG proposes to continue supporting farmers and land managers post Brexit. This consultation will be a key opportunity for advocacy on imbedding environmental principles into policy.  In term of a transition arrangement, direct support (basic payment scheme) will be retained until 2019 at its current level, whilst the transition to new arrangements will begin in 2020 (which will include a phased withdrawal of the BPS scheme) with the ambition of rolling out the new Land Management Programme by 2025.

 

The new Land Management Programme will replace the CAP in its entirety and will consist of two over-arching schemes: the Economic Resilience scheme and the Public Goods scheme.

 

The Economic Resilience scheme will provide targeted investment to both land managers and their supply chains. The scheme will provide support to increase market potential, drive improvements in productivity, diversify, improve risk management and enhance knowledge exchange and skills. In doing so, it will help businesses to stand on their own two feet.

 

The Public Goods scheme will provide support to deliver more public goods from the land. In return, it will provide a new income stream for land managers and make a significant contribution to addressing some of our most pressing challenges such as climate change, biodiversity decline, adverse air quality and poor water quality. To underpin both these schemes we believe there is a good case for fairer, simpler and more coherent regulation.

 

This is potentially the most important change for Welsh nature in our lifetimes – but we have to make sure the Government get it right, which is why we need your help. The NFFN Wales Steering Group are currently developing a response to the consultation. A draft response will be sent to farmer members in Wales to input in due course.  You can also send an individual response to the consultation by clicking this link.  

 

In the meantime you might want to take 3 minutes of your time today to complete an e-action (developed by RSPB Cymru) and send an email to Welsh Government. You can either click and send the pre-written email (which takes 2 mins), or personalise it by answering a few questions, such as “I want nature-friendly farming because…”. This will only take a couple more mins, but we really encourage you to do it because personal answers have the most impact!

 

The consultation will run until 30th October. Thank you for your support!

 

3026_95 Nature Friendly Farmer wanted for National Trust Tenancy, Cumbria
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Penny Hill Farm
Eskdale
Cumbria
CA19 1TF

Penny Hill farm is in an amazing part of the Lake District that is loved by millions – not least because of the iconic Herdwick sheep, a really special part of this particular place. Indeed, the area is so special that, last year, the Lake District became a World Heritage Site as a Cultural Landscape – in no small part due to the way in which people have interacted with and been influenced by the landscape over hundreds of years. Farming has been one of the key parts of that and we will work to make sure that it continues.

Penny Hill is a well-maintained traditional Lakeland fell farm extending to approximately 72 hectares (178 acres), including a 4/5 bedroom farmhouse, a 2 bedroom holiday cottage and a range of modern and traditional farm buildings.

The farm includes a landlord’s Herdwick flock.

This is a great opportunity for a pro-active tenant to work in partnership to develop a successful business based on high quality livestock, habitat & landscape management.

The farm is being offered on a 15 year, 6 months Farm Business Tenancy.

For more information please visit https: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/farms-to-let

2992_96 Contact Your MP, Now is the Time to Make a Difference…
2992

We are soon to see a new Agriculture Bill (the first in a generation) put before the Westminster parliament. It provides a chance to secure a sustainable future for agriculture and the environment, as well as a range of public goods for society.

In order to do so, this Agriculture Bill (which is expected this autumn) should focus on spending public money to reward farmers for the public benefits they provide to society; increase the funding available and reflect the government’s ambition to restore nature within a generation; and include a broad purpose for future policies, clear objectives and mechanisms to secure long-term funding.

Ask to meet your MP

This opportunity is one that should not be missed. We as farmers are uniquely placed to drive forward the restoration of our natural environment and we need to use our voices to put our messages in front of as many MPs as possible, explaining why the Agriculture Bill needs to support nature-friendly farming across the countryside.

It can be a bit daunting contacting your local MP, especially if you’ve not done it before, or even engaged ‘politically’ that much, or at all. However, it’s pretty simple really. MPs, on the whole, are keen to hear from their constituents, especially on issues that they feel passionate about.

Here are some resources to help you plan a meeting and use it to promote nature friendly farming.

That said, it’s so much more effective if you say this in your own words and express how important this is to you – as a farmer you get it, so please talk about your own experiences, passion and how this fits with your own practices.

You really could help make the difference with this and we’d love to hear how you get on. Please let us know if you meet your MP or have any questions regarding this please get in touch at info@nffn.org.uk

Are you a public member of NFFN? Contacting your MP will also be a big help.

Please see a template letter you may wish to use here:

NFFN-Public-Member-Letter-to-MP-updated

 

 

 

2848_97 Chris Packham Supports Nature Friendly Farmers
2848

After Martin Lines met Chris Packham to talk about how many farmers are trying to deliver a better environment, Chris is keen to support the Nature Friendly Farming Network and those farmers who are making a difference for wildlife and the environment for the future.

2765_98 NFFN Environmental Land Management Scheme Recommendations
2765

NFFN New Environmental Land Management Scheme Recommendations

2674_99 Farmer David Corrie-Close Shares his Nature Friendly Farming Story with Parliament
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Cumbrian farmer David Corrie-Close of the Horned Beef Company and Vice Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, shared his journey at the Parliamentary Farmers Market event at Westminster yesterday (27/06/18). David shows how farming with nature can work and believes this is the way forward for UK farming.

2631_100 NFFN Farmer Case Study: John Carson, Ballyrenan, Co Down, Northern Ireland
2631

County Down farmer and member of the Soil Association Farmer and Grower Board, John Carson farms 380 acres, 30 miles east of Belfast in Co Down, Northern Ireland. His family has been farming at Ballyrenan Farm near Downpatrick for nearly 60 years. In 2005, when his son Jonathan returned from college, father and son decided to take the farm organic. Suckler cows, beef cattle and cereals are the main enterprises on the farm, with 20 acres of kale grown for winter feed.

John is a board member of the Soil Association and Chair of Organic NI.

Why do you support nature friendly farming?

The number one reason that I support nature friendly farming is that we were farming in a very nature friendly way ourselves and I began to want to take a leadership role. Many farmers are not good ambassadors for the excellent work they are doing. I wanted to represent and inspire other farmers.

I would like to get as many farmers on board as possible, representing the whole of the UK, from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What nature friendly farming approaches have you implemented on your farm?

We made the transition to organic arable farming and diversified into organic sheep and suckler cows, which are all finished on the farm with home-grown organic feed. Our key focus has been on using clover-rich swards, developing new grazing systems and exploring the use of new technology to increase productivity and supporting nature and wildlife on the farm. We also have a strong focus on animal health and traceability.

We are also managing 16 acres of newly planted trees. In just three years of growth you wouldn’t believe the vegetation and wildlife that is coming back. We’ve even got the cuckoo back.

What impact has this had?

When we started to farm organically we saw a huge difference. One of the biggest things we found was that it takes a year or two for soils to adjust. The grass roots come up looking for fertiliser fix. They’re like an alcoholic, they keep looking for that fix.

After about two years the roots go down deep. This is good for us – we’re in a very dry area here where drought would be a problem. Dry weather is not affecting us the same way it did in the past.

We need to look at what we’re doing to the soil. When we used to farm conventionally, we wouldn’t see any gulls following the tractor, as there weren’t many worms. Now when we plough, the sky is thick with gulls. The worm count has greatly improved. The whole feel of the soil is very different when farming in an environment friendly way, when not sowing fertiliser and using chemicals.

What role do you see farmers playing in protecting nature?

Farmers have always played a very important role in protecting nature. Look at the great work of our great grandfathers and generations before them. Look at the hedgerows that were put up hundreds of years ago.

We all rely on farmers to maintain the four inches of soil keeping us alive. Every farmer is working with nature – whether that is sowing crops or delivering calves – we are always working with nature. If it wasn’t for natural systems such as the rain, we just couldn’t farm.

The challenge now is for farmers to leave something behind for future generations. Global warming means we need to start farming differently and looking after nature in a different way.

Why does nature friendly farming need government support?

One of the reasons that farmers need support is because food is too cheap. Many years ago, it took about 35% of an income to provide food for a household. Now it’s about 10%. In this context, you can see the support we receive is not a lot of money.

In mountain areas, farming provides a vital function by keeping habitats in good order. Some areas need to be grazed to be maintained, otherwise they would get out of control.

Consumers like to have the choice of organic produce, but organic farming needs support. Where I might have had 20 animals in a field before, I have 10-15 now, so yields are obviously reduced. Farming in this way means that you are not taking out of the ground in the same way.

Why is Brexit an important opportunity for nature friendly farming?

It is currently quite uncertain. Change can be good and it can create opportunity. But we don’t know what this is going to be yet. A lot depends on the trade deal we get when we do leave.

We’re promised a lot by the present government, but what if government changes? We need a 25-year plan, for both agriculture and the environment. A four or five-year plan is not good enough for farmers, especially if it can all change after an election.

That said, there is an opportunity to have our voice heard through organisations like NFFN. Farmers need to work together, singing from the same hymn sheet if they are to get the message across.

What’s the biggest threat to British farmers post Brexit?

As a member of the European Union, there has been a lot of support for nature and organic farming. One of my concerns is that we won’t get that support from the UK government.

I am also concerned about future trade deals. Cheap imports, for example from Argentina, could flood our market with produce. I would be very worried about a trade deal between UK and South America, which could be devastating for farming. The government obviously wants food as cheap as they can get it, there are a lot of votes in that. But cheap food also leads to food waste – around 30% at this present time. The thought of it nearly stops you sleeping in your bed at night.

What’s the value of bringing farmers together in the NFFN?

There is a social sharing element about the NFFN which is important – farming can be a very lonely occupation. In Ireland, one in five farmers has suffered from depression or mental health issues. By coming together, we swap ideas and learn from one another.

Farmers need to know how to farm in a nature-friendly way, but it is equally important that they know how to make their business more profitable. As farmers manage about 74% of the land in the UK, we need to keep farmers farming.

2569_101 NFFN Response to the Health and Harmony Consultation
2569

NFFN Command Paper Response Final

2264_102 Nature Friendly Farmer Neil Heseltine tells us why Farming with Nature is Important to him
2264

2121_103 Nature Friendly Farmer wanted for National Trust Tenancy Lake District
2121

National Trust wishes to let on a 15 year Farm Business Tenancy from the 1st November 2018

HIGH TILBERTHWAITE FARM

Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8DG 

A well-maintained traditional Lakeland fell farm extending to 575ha, or thereabouts including a 3 bedroom farmhouse, a 2 bedroom holiday cottage

and a range of modern and traditional farm buildings.

Landlord’s Herdwick Flock.

 

A great opportunity for a pro-active tenant to work in partnership to

develop a successful business based on high quality livestock,

habitat & landscape management

 

Viewing by appointment only

For letting particulars please download from

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/farms-to-let

or by e-mailing northwestlettings@nationaltrust.org.uk

 

2098_104 NFFN Farm Case Study: Peatland restoration in the Shetlands: Aithsetter Croft
2098

Hazel Mackenzie runs a croft in Aithsetter, Cunningsburgh with her husband Kenneth. Aithsetter was in an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) for 10 years and is now in an Agri Environment Climate Scheme (AECS), which provides financial support for sensitive land management techniques. Hazel is passionate about making sure that the wildlife, flora and fauna that she grew up enjoying, remains there for future generations.

The nature found on the croft when Hazel was small is still here. She attributes this to the croft still growing the crops that her parents and grandparents grew: meadow hay, silage, turnips and Shetland Kale. By harvesting the crops at the traditional time of year, they encourage re-growth of flowers and grasses and the breeding of wildlife. There are also cattle, sheep, pigs and hens.

However there has been an issue with the condition of peatland, with a high level of wind erosion making it one of the most damaged peat sites in Shetland. To tackle this, the Mackenzies pioneered one of Shetland’s first peatland restoration scheme. This included planting sphagnum moss and moorland grasses, and re-wetting the land using recycled salmon pipe and netting. This is an ongoing project and each year, they restore more. The improved land has made the croft easier to farm. For example, managing the livestock is easier because walkways are being installed over the re-wetted gulleys giving easier access for farm quads and drovers.

Part of the holding’s heather moorland was runner up in the 2015 Heather Trust’s Golden Plover Award for Moorland Management (Shetland Peatland Restoration Project). On the moorland, there are many species including golden plovers, grouse and hare which are all thriving. The croft’s Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is monitored by Scottish Natural Heritage, and it is in good condition, despite very wet weather of late – making it difficult to mow or graze.

The couple diversified in 2012 by building two holiday lodges on their croft and in June 2017 by building Britain’s most northerly farm shop and café. The shop and café sell beef, lamb, pork, mutton and orange-yolked eggs from the croft and have over 50 other local suppliers. People come from all over the world to stay in the holiday lodges and many return every year. The lodges, which were supported by Scottish Rural Development Programme funding, are now paying their way. The farm shop, which did particularly well during its first summer and at Shetland’s famous Up Helly Aa festival, will have paid for itself soon too. As the peatland improves, the Mackenzies are planning to add a circular walk from the lodges, through the farm shop, up to the peatland and back again, enhancing the site even more.

Tips:

  • In Shetland peat is particularly vulnerable to wind erosion. By taking steps to restore it crofters can prevent the condition of the land degrading further.
  • Crofters can get funding towards peat restoration through the Peatland Action scheme.
  • Join the Nature Friendly Farming Network for more tips and support: https://www.nffn.org.uk/

1953_105 Winterwatch
1953

Learn about how you can help cirl buntings with NFFN steering group member Jon Andrews.

1792_106 Nature Friendly Farmer wanted for National Trust Tenancy
1792

National Trust have a fantastic opportunity for a nature-friendly farmer in the Peak District.  Old House Farm, Derwent, is a c.175ha holding with access, if needed (but not compulsorily part of the deal) to an additional 845ha heft. 

They are looking for “innovation; a break from the ‘usual’ that will really deliver the Trust’s charitable objectives of ‘excellent’ conservation land management, public access and engagement as part of a sustainable upland farm delivering wider public benefits in the Peak District”.

Please see the following links for full details:

Old House Farm Particulars (v1)

20180124 Location and RLR plans and field schedule

 

1444_107 The Future of UK Farming
1444

NFFN Report FINAL (NXPowerLite Copy)

438_108 Farmer profile – Martin Lines, Cambridgeshire
438

A bit about the farm – where is it, what do you grow?

I am a third generation farmer from South Cambridgeshire.  In partnership with my father, we grow mainly winter cereals on our family farm of just over 400 acres. We also rent some land and have some contract farm agreements to bring the farm area up to 900 acres.  The farm is centred on an old farmstead, which dates back to at least the 11th Century.  The farm has seen considerable changes over the years, but none more so than in the last 60 years.

Why being nature-friendly is important, and how you are encouraging wildlife

For over 10 years our farm was in the old Countryside Stewardship Scheme to try to improve the natural habitat for wildlife on the farm.  We restored many of the hedges around the fields which had previously been removed, improving the few that were remaining and planting new ones. We also established grass strips alongside hedges and ditches, and on our field boundaries. Over this time, we saw a significant increase in wildlife, both flora and fauna. The RSPB undertook several surveys which identified the wide range of species found on the farm, including birds of high conservation concern such as turtle doves, yellow wagtails and corn buntings.

In the last 5 years we have been in both an ELS and an HLS scheme, planting areas of wild bird mixes, creating wildflower areas and flower enhanced boundary strips, as well as leaving an area of fallow land as a food and nesting source. We have over 40 skylark plots distributed throughout our fields and we continue to sympathetically manage our old ridge and furrow meadows.

In the future, I hope to continue and extend our conservation work and link up wildlife habitats on neighbouring farms.   We have made many wildlife corridors across the farm to help the wildlife move about.  I continue to run a productive arable business, alongside a great wild life package.

 

What your thoughts are on how future farming should look to ensure there’s space for food and wildlife

The diversity of the British countryside is an asset that is not only vital to wildlife but is also of great value to the general public. The right support is crucial to the continuation of work done by many farmers and landowners to improve the habitats for wildlife in this country.  By working together, we can further enhance and improve our countryside for all to benefit, but we need the right policies and support in place to help us fulfil the potential that farmland has for conservation.

 

Your reasons for joining the network

I have joined the Nature Friendly Farming Network because I believe that safeguarding the future of our countryside, and the wildlife that resides in it, is imperative. Farmers need the right support to help make this happen.

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New video highlights actions to help Farmland pollinators.

This video was funded through the Creative Ireland Initiative.