With a green Brexit (supposedly) on its way, now is the time to take a closer look at biodiversity on the farm and how conservation programmes can be implemented to secure qualification for future payments and the sustainability of wildlife.
However, too few farmers and landowners are actively involved and, despite the majority of wildlife living on farmed land, organisations such as the Wildlife Trust have a disappointing proportion of agricultural members.
“There are lots of good conservationists who are not a part of the Wildlife Trust or any other conservation body,” said Mike Bax, chairman of the Kent Wildlife Trust. “We want to do more with farmers and landowners because working together is crucial for the long-term survival of wildlife.”
While participating in stewardship schemes can bring financial benefits, there are a multitude of ways to improve biodiversity without being bound to government regulations.
Effective ways to introduce wildlife friendly features to the land, can range from wildlife friendly cropping and harvesting to simply thinking about how connectivity between ponds, hedgerows or neighbouring farms can restore diversity to sites which may have lost out in recent years.
Landowners who want guidance on increasing the connectivity for wildlife, but have reservations about being interfered with on a regulatory basis, can get in touch with the Wildlife Trusts’ knowledgeable and practical advisors.
“We are not here to interfere or take away the freedom of managing your own programme,” said Mike. “Our team of advisors can review sites, highlight positive features and demonstrate how you might, if you choose to do so, enhance the current landscape features and help to re-connect countryside.”
The Wildlife Trust’s position on field sports is completely neutral, but if a landowner is contemplating starting a conservation programme, the trust can advise on such features as cover crops that might be of benefit to populations of wild birds.
From drawing up small management plans, to occasional consultative visits, and sending volunteers to help manage the land, the Wildlife Trust are keen to help generate wins for the wildlife.
Land agent of 40 years, the B in BTF Partnership, previous High Sherriff of Kent, and current chairman of the Kent Wildlife Trust, Mike Bax’s interests in wildlife and the countryside flourished after the stewardship schemes were introduced.
Moving away from his flock of breeding sheep and several cattle, Mike currently manages 250-acres of varying entry and higher level stewardships plots, ancient woodland and an SSSI site, just outside Shadoxhurst, Kent.
Most recently, the farm took over tenancy of an 11-acre SSSI site on the farm’s boundary, which has very high wildlife quality but was in need of active restoration.
With Devilsbit Scabious, Eyebright, Adders tongue Ferns, Common Spotted Orchids, Betony, Rosebay Willowherb and many more, Alex Farm Pastures is renowned for its floral interest.
“I don’t know another site like this for Devilsbit Scabious,” said Mike. “It is pretty special on this scale and there are not many places where you can go and see a blue haze. In turn, we get an incredible range of rare butterflies. Grizzled Skippers, Silver-washed Fritillaries, White Admirals, Small Coppers, and Clouded Yellows all pass through during summer.”
Local sheep and cattle are brought in to graze the land and often help with its management.
“Along with a team of 30 or so volunteers who help to clear the secondary woodland back over two or three days this year, as part of a wider project, the Kent Wildlife Trust also runs its own herd of Highland Cattle and they will be grazing on this site for about three months in the winter,” said Mike.
While the site has been designated for its floral interests, Mike is still keen to keep some of the blackthorn and hawthorn scrub, which create a perfect Nightingale habitat.
Conservation is about intervening correctly to keep the biodiversity and mosaic of habitats. To preserve and enhance the environment there has to be active management and that needs to be geared to finding a better balance.