John Beech – Land Management Adviser
I’ve recently returned from the lowlands of Leicestershire and three days training with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). The BASIS Conservation Management course was highly informative, well led and thoroughly enjoyed by all who took part.
The Trust’s own Allerton Farm Project at Loddington was the venue for the course – a 272 hectare mixed farm enterprise that is innovative in its approach to conservation management. One of the first things I noticed when I drove into the village was the amount of farmland birdlife, so I knew somebody was doing something right in terms of conservation land management.
The course covered all of the different elements required when managing farmland for conservation and wildlife, alongside profit. We covered a multitude of subjects including Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, Minimum Tillage systems, Biobeds for pesticide removal, increasing farm energy efficiency, recent pesticide developments, Biodiversity 2020 strategy, Farm Assurance Schemes, Cross Compliance regulations, gamekeeping for wildlife management, maintaining soil sustainability, improving water quality, tackling non-native invasive species, and managing farm woodlands. Starting off in the classroom the lessons were then observed in practice across the farm.
The Allerton Farm Project targets management for specific (Red and Amber Status) species such as Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove, Bullfinch, Tree Sparrow and Skylark. Cultivating a mixture of high hedges, managed grass buffer strips, plots for nesting in amongst the cereal crop as well as putting up nest boxes, has added to the aggregate of necessary habitats and increased habitat diversity on the farm.
The farm has benefited from a number of agri-environment grants over the years but is by no means reliant on these. If there is something that an agri-environment scheme promotes but doesn’t fit in with farm practices it isn’t taken up. However this is relatively rare, and the general thinking is that farms should take advantage of these schemes where possible and can do so with a little assistance.
Energy efficiency and recycling are common threads within sustainable farm management and our classroom for the three days was a good example of an energy efficient building: surrounded and insulated by straw bales, heated by a biomass boiler and lit via solar panels on the roof.
The afternoon of Day Three meant sitting a two and a half hour exam – as a middle aged man that’s something that some of us on the course hadn’t done for many a year. I’ll find out how well I’ve done when the results come through in a few weeks!
The Allerton Farm Project is a great example of how mixed farming and wildlife conservation can work in practice, and benefit species recovery and landscape enhancement.
All in all, I learnt a lot and one of the positive messages I’m taking away is that on every farm there is always something that can be done to benefit wildlife without having to lose out on money in the process. I’ll carry these thoughts with me as I start back on my day job in the North York Moors, refreshed and revitalised from my three days at Loddington.
The Allerton Farm Project has its own Research Blog.