Monday, 8 December 2014

Farmers already starting to get twitchy!

Patrick Barker talking about the habitats he has created on the farm

Last Friday I was at Patrick Barker’s farm near Stowmarket in the Eastern counties, helping to launch the next GWCT “Big Farmland Bird Count” (BFBC).

Patrick farms the 1,260 acres at Lodge Farm, Westhorpe, with his cousin Brian and I must say, they combine superbly well to run a profitable, efficiently run farm with the environment right at the top of the agenda.

My GWCT colleague Jim Egan had organised a really good day and had got an impressive array of representatives from land connected organisations including the NFU, CLA, FWAG, RSPB, LEAF and sponsors BASF, along with journalists from the Farmers Weekly and Farmers Guardian amongst others.

The whole point of this exercise is to get farmers to spend half an hour or so out on the farm in February to see what birds they have on the farm. The RSPB is fully supportive of the initiative and have kindly helped us to illustrate ID cards of farmland birds to aid surveyors.

I often give talks to non-farming members of the “public” – if I can call them that! Having told them about the Stewardship scheme that pays farmers to implement various options for wildlife on their farms, I then ask them what percentage of farmers do they think has taken up this scheme. Invariably I get the same answer – around 5-10% is what they envisage.  I then tell them that it is in fact 74%, which usually results in gasps of surprise!

I think that people are so used to constantly reading bad news about farming – food poisoning scares, pesticide fears, TB, polluted water and so on, that they don't realise just how much wonderfully positive stuff is taking place on our UK farms. As an industry, historically agriculture has not been the best at shouting about what it does well, although it is now without doubt starting to improve this situation. 

I visits farms all over the country and I am constantly amazed by how much farmers are doing for wildlife. Of course there is always room for improvement, but generally the farming industry has come on with leaps and bounds from where it was a number of years ago, and I really do think that it time that some credit was given.

The BFBC gives farmers a chance to stop work for half an hour and go and check out the birds that are using the habitats that they have put in for them on the farm. Not only will they thoroughly enjoy the experience I'm sure, but once they have sent in their records to us, we can then collate the data and shout about what they have found!
Last year, the first year of the count, around 500 farmers got involved and an unbelievable 116 species where spotted! This year, after such an excellent launch with fantastic support from key countryside organisations, which will undoubtedly help to create lots of publicity, we are hoping for many, many more farmers to take part.

The GWCT is also going to be running a number of farmland bird ID sessions across the country prior to the survey week, which is the 7th and 15th of February 2015, so that farmers can brush up on their spotting skills!

All being well, we can then give the media an upbeat, really positive farm-based news story for once, reflecting much more closely what is actually happening on British farmland.

For more details of the BFBC and to download survey sheets – go to:   
Spot the birdie - training in progress.
From left: Graham Hartwell (BASF), Guy Smith (NFU vice president), Iain Dillon (RSPB),
Joe Martin (Chairman of the FWAG association), Sir Jim Paice (GWCT's Allerton project Chairman)
Tim Breitmeyer (CLA vice president), Jim Egan (GWCT BFBC organiser).

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