|David Smart standing in a newly sown flower strip|
I visited the Essex Wildlife Trust’s 700 acre farm at Abbotts Hall (not too far from Colchester) last week, as they grow crops for Conservation Grade. Trust manager David Smart showed me around and I must say I was impressed by how much is going on conservation wise – whilst the remit is still to definitely farm commercially, they are certainly accomplishing a lot besides!
This is great because it means that the Essex Wildlife Trust really understands what trials and tribulations the county’s farmers are facing, which must surely give them real credibility when they come to advise farmers locally. The Wildlife Trusts in general are improving their knowledge and advice about farmland, as maybe in the past they have concentrated on the “special” habitats and nature reserves within their given county, sometimes rather ignoring the wider farmed landscape. I hope this does not sound condescending – but I do think this was often the case.
Abbotts Hall farm not only grows wild bird seed mixes and wild flower areas, but they have also created a large lake area which is now home to lots of birds and a thriving Water Vole colony. They also took some arable land adjacent to the marshes out of food production some dozen years or so ago, letting it go back to a natural coastal habitat – which is precisely what it has done – it is now hard to believe that it once was ploughed!
Also along this extensive area of coastline there are a range of habitats such as mudflats, marshes, saline lagoons and the "fringe" area where sea and farmland meet, and it is just here that the plant Hog’ Fennel can be found, which just happens to be the food plant of the extremely rare Fisher’s Estuarine Moth. The trust has been involved in a project to introduce this species back into suitable habitats – and the result is? The farm now has a small but thriving population of this endangered moth!
To me however, one of the most impressive things I saw was the best field of Oil Seed Rape so far this year. Now you are talking – growing lots of food and wildlife on the same farm – that’s what it’s all about! Well done Essex Wildlife Trust!!