Agriculture Bill

Turtle Dove habitat on a Fair to Nature farm. Photo credit: S Abbott/RSPB

This autumn saw the publication of the first new UK Agriculture Bill for 70 years. It was published alongside a policy statement and together they reaffirm the government’s commitment to public money for public goods. This really is a step change for farming in the UK. By recognising the importance of environmental protection and enhancement the approach is in tune with all Fair to Nature is seeking to achieve!

A key plank of the new policy in England will be the  Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. Although very much under development, this will supersede the current agri-environment schemes. The ambition is for it to be more results based, simpler to access and allow efficient farming and improving the environment to go hand in hand. A Tests and Trials Advisory Group has been convened to co-design the scheme.

In addition to support for public goods and ELM, the policy also refers to the need to maintain regulatory protections and  improve transparency in the supply chain – both really important elements of a more sustainable farming system.

Although these are all positive developments, as always, the devil is in the detail and if this new agriculture policy is going to deliver for people and wildlife there are still crucial details which need to be pinned down.

The Bill provides a framework through which the ambitions of the policy can be delivered but none of this is guaranteed. There are some fairly sizeable holes which will need filling to ensure the new approach does not sink without trace. These include: secure long-term funding; a clear and ambitious purpose to improve the environment and a duty to have an environmental land management scheme to ensure its not lost on the whim of a future government.

You can read more about the Bill here.

Thank you to Lucy Bjorck from the RSPB’s Land Use Policy Unit for this article.

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New Year Resolutions - bee - What do Bees Need?It’s Bees Needs Week! This annual event is organised by the Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as part of England’s National Pollinator Strategy. Various events are going on around the country to celebrate and promote what bees and other pollinators do for us. The event was launched in Carnaby Street, which has been renamed Carnabee Street for the week. Visitors can visit a pop-up ‘hive’ at 3 Carnaby Street to find out more about our furry little friends.

Pollinators, such as bees, are vital to the growth of our food crops. According to the charity Buglife, it is estimated that 84% of EU crops (valued at £12.6 billion) and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination The insects forage for food in the flowers and, in the process, transfer pollen from one flower to another (pollination), enabling fertilisation to take place. Without fertilisation these plants would not be able to set seed or produce fruit. The ecosystem services provided by these little creatures is often overlooked.

The National Pollinator Strategy aims to build on our understanding of the contribution of pollinators to our food supply and to prevent declines in pollinator populations. There are 5 simple actions that many of us can take to help prevent pollinator declines:

  • Cut grass less often – daisies and dandelions are great sources of pollens and nectar.
  • Let your garden grow wild – or at least have a wild area within your garden. How about a mini wildflower meadow?
  • Don’t disturb insect nests and hibernation spots
  • Think carefully about whether to use pesticides
  • Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees

Our Fair to Nature farmers know the importance of pollinators to the success of their crops and encourage them on to their farms by planting areas of pollen and nectar rich wildflowers, like the one below.

Wildflower margin on a Fair to Nature farm - What do Bees Need?

Wildflower margin on a Fair to Nature farm.Photo credit: Brin Hughes

 

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New Year resolutions - butterflyHappy New Year! Let’s make 2018 a good year for nature!

Here are some simple New Year resolutions that will lessen our impact on the natural environment around us and even help us feel good:

When shopping…

Buy loose fruit and vegetables and use paper bags where possible instead of pre-packaged in plastic.

Give up using plastic drinking straws. Switch to paper, metal or bamboo straws or just go without! Take the Plastic Challenge.

Keep reusable shopping bags with you in your car or bag to save money and reduce the number of plastic bags in circulation.

Plan meals and buy smaller amounts of perishable items to reduce food waste and save money. Check out Love Food Hate Waste for some tips on how to use up leftovers. 

Choose brands that go the extra mile for nature, such as those that have Organic certification or labels such as  Fair to Nature, LEAF, or Pasture for Life.

For more information about making your shop nature-friendly read Chris Kent’s blog ‘6 ways to make your shopping basket nature friendly’.

In your garden…

Leave an area of your garden to grow wild if you have the space. This will encourage wildlife to forage and perhaps nest in your garden.

Insect mansionPut up a bird box and build a bug hotel. Buglife’s insect hotel is simple to make and the RSPB website has detailed instructions for building a bird box.

Provide food for birds and site the feeder so it’s visible from your window so you can enjoy watching the variety of visitors. You could take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch between 27th and 29th January 2018! Make sure you regularly clean the feeders to stop the spread of diseases, and look out for bird food that is grown in a nature-friendly way, such as Fair to Nature bird food from the RSPB, Honeyfield’s, National Trust, and GardenBird. Check out our ‘Feeding garden birds’ page.

When out and about…

Wildlife gardeningEngage with nature. The more we interact with and learn about nature, the more we are prepared to protect it for futures generations to enjoy. Research has shown that interacting with nature also makes us happier!

Visit your local nature reserve. The RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust websites can point you in the direction of your nearest UK reserves.

Join a Green Gym or volunteer at your local park. A lot of parks have voluntary groups of Friends who help to maintain the space. A great way to get fresh air, exercise and companionship for free!

Or simply enjoy a walk in your local park or green space!

Here’s to a great 2018!

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What's in my patch? Red Campion #2

Red Campion Silene dioica. Photo credit: S Abbott/CG

Red Campion (Silene dioica) is also known as Red Catchfly in the USA. It is a member of the Pink family (Caryophyllaceae). This pretty perennial plant has deep pink flowers with notched petals on a hairy stem up to 1m tall. In the wild it favours lowland soils and shady areas and is a common sight along roadside verges. The best time to see the plant in flower is late spring, when the bluebells begin to fade, and into the summer months.

What's in my patch? Red Campion #1The 20mm wide flowers open during the day and are very attractive to pollinating invertebrates with a long proboscis (or tongue)!

When sowing Red Campion in a wildflower seed mix, farmers need to keep the seed rate low as in favourable conditions it can take over a wildflower area as happened spectacularly at the former Fair to Nature office! It looked great though, and it was buzzing with insect life, as well as being a talking point for visitors!

Did you know that Silene, in Red Campion’s scientific name, comes from the Greek God Silenus? Silenus was often depicted as a drunkard and got his name from the Greek word for saliva – ‘sialon’ – as he was often covered in a sticky foam. Female Red Campion flowers produce a sticky foam to capture pollen from visiting insects.

What's in my patch? Red Campion

A riot of Red Campion at the former Fair to Nature HQ in 2016. Photo credit: S Abbott/CG

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37185438 - cowslips on a hill in the landscape cowslip

Cowslips. Photo credit: pixphoto/123rf.com

The egg yolk yellow flowers of the Cowslip (Primula veris) are a welcome sign of spring. A herbaceous perennial of the Primrose family Primulaceae, the Cowslip flowers throughout April and May, providing an early nectar source for long tongued bees, butterflies, moths and bee flies. The flowering stems arise out of a rosette of wrinkled leaves and the flowers are a deep yellow with an orange base. The flowers cluster together at the top of the stems, often drooping to one side. The plant prefers chalky soils that are moist and well draining but can also grow well in dry, non-calcareous soils. 

Common in traditional meadows, it is sometimes present in the wildflower areas managed by our Fair to Nature farmers. One of our members’ has a former arable field that has been reverted back to grassland and Cowslips are now abundant in this field. Another of our members’ has a long established wildflower area adjacent to an arable field and the Cowslips are the first to flower in this habitat each year. The name ‘Cowslip’ is derived from the Old English word for cow pat, cu-sloppe, reflecting the presence of the plant in traditional grazed meadows.

Cowslip

The nodding flowers of the Cowslip. Photo credit: S Abbott/CG

Although still a common flower in many parts of the UK, the Cowslip is declining and meadows full of Cowslips are a rarity. Much of the decline occurred between the 1940s and 1980s as agriculture intensified. Only 2% of the wildflower meadows that existed in the UK in the 1930s remain today!

You can help our farmers to create and manage more wildflower areas in our countryside by choosing Fair to Nature brands. The brands contribute towards the cost of managing the wildlife habitats.

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Pollen and nectar habitat on a Fair to Nature farm What's in my patchIt’s the time of year when some of our Fair to Nature farmers are sowing their wildflower mixes. The best sowing time is mid August to mid September but this clashes with the busy harvest of cereal crops so there may not be enough hours in the day to fit it all in! The wildflower mixes contain plants that provide a much needed nectar source for pollinating insects such as bumblebees, honeybees and hoverflies. The Fair to Nature protocol, that all our farmers follow, requires two types of pollen and nectar habitats – wildflower meadow species, such as oxeye daisy, and legume species, such as clover. The wildflower meadow species are generally perennial and the flowers are long lasting. The flowers come into their own later in the year and, with careful management, the meadow can last a lifetime. The legume species are perfect for providing an early nectar source as they start flowering in early spring, but these mixes tend to run out of steam after 4 or 5 years and will need to be resown.

Fair to Nature farmers are also sowing their wild bird food crops. These special mixes of seed bearing species like fodder radish and white millet will provide food for wild birds over the winter months and into the early spring when food can be scarce.

We’ll be taking a closer look at some of the different plant species that our farmers grow in these special wildlife areas in our series ‘What’s in my patch?’ over the coming weeks.

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We think all our Fair to Nature farmers are winners for the amazing work they do for wildlife on their farms so it’s great when they are recognised for their achievements. Robert Law FWAGThe latest winner is one of our pilot farmers. Robert Law farms on the Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Essex borders and has been a Fair to Nature member since the scheme began in 1985, growing oats for Jordans Cereals and then supplying other Fair to Nature accredited brands as the scheme grew. Robert has recently won the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) East Farm Conservation Award 2016.

Robert is a first generation farmer and since taking over the Hertfordshire farm he has planted over 30km of hedgerows on the land and created areas of new woodland. The farm has flourishing wildflower and wild bird food habitats.

Katie Hilton, Robert’s FWAG East adviser, said, “Robert is a true advocate of wildlife farming and this is evident in the wide range of Stewardship options to be found across his farm, from sensitively grazed chalk grassland slopes to large swathes of pollinator and farmland bird crops”.

Robert, along with two other regional finalists, now goes on the shortlist for FWAGs Silver Lapwing Award, which recognises farmers who go the extra mile to protect and enhance the countryside in which they farm. Good luck Robert!

Click here to read about Robert and some of our other Fair to Nature farmers.

 

 

 

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We’ve just rediscovered some great pictures from a motion camera that we were loaned in 2013! We were loaned the camera by Perdix Wildlife Supplies, to monitor a supplementary feeding trial that we were carrying out as part of Operation Turtle Dove. We had devised a feeding cage that would allow turtle doves in but exclude any predators. We decided to practice positioning the camera by strapping it to a tree outside our office window. The camera was set up to capture footage from around our bird feeders. We found that the feeders attracted more than birds…

Badger captured by motion camera at Gransden 12.06.12 2359

A badger rushes by

rabbit - camera

A rabbit in the evening sunset

Greylag goslings and their parents - camera

A greylag gosling tries out it’s wings

Fox at Gransden 2 camera

A fox checks out the bird feeder

pheasant 4

A pheasant

Brown hare and crow - camera

Brown hare, pheasant and crow

We have seen evidence of muntjac deer around the feeders but didn’t capture any footage of them unfortunately. But it was exciting to view the overnight activity each day! As for the turtle dove feeding trial, 2013 was a bad year to do the trial. The Fair to Nature farm that were we were trialing the feeder had nesting turtle doves most years but there was no sign of them in 2013! 

Thanks again to Perdix Wildlife Supplies for the loan of the cameras. Perdix Wildlife Supplies logo - camera

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Lapwing in flight - Big Farmland Bird Count

A Lapwing in flight. Photo credit: S Tonkin

Hot on the heels of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Big Farmland Bird Count takes place between the 3rd and 12th February. The Trust started the Big Farmland Bird Count in 2014 to highlight the good work done by farmers and gamekeepers in helping to reverse the decline in farmland bird numbers. Back then just 50 farmers took part, but now over 1000 farmers submit records and it is hoped that this will increase to 5000 in the future.

It is an easy way for farmers to find out about the birds they have on their farm. It enables them to assess the effect that their environmental stewardship options and areas of land under schemes such as Fair to Nature are having on the numbers of wild birds visiting their land. Fair to Nature farmers are required to grow areas of seed bearing crops that will feed birds over the winter and into the spring. They are also encouraged to provide supplementary food for birds in feeders or by spreading along farm tracks.

This year the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is launching a new online tool to make it quicker and easier for farmers to record their counts and will enable them to plot trends and compare their farm with others in the region. The Trust has also hosted a number of farmland bird identification days in conjunction with the RSPB so participants can hone their ID skills before the event.

For full details about the Big Farmland Bird Count see: http://www.gwct.org.uk/farming/big-farmland-bird-count/.

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Birds at fat balls feeder S Tonkin

Blue tits at a fat ball feeder. Image credit: S Tonkin/CG

Supplementary feeding of the birds in your garden helps them to survive periods of natural food shortage and severe winter weather, and gives them a better chance of being in peak condition for breeding. It is also a very pleasurable pastime to watch a variety of species at close quarters.

It may take a while for the number of birds visiting your feeders to build up because when the weather is mild they can take advantage of the naturally occurring seeds, berries and insects. But when these start running out and when the weather turns colder your feeders will become an important source of food.

When should I feed the birds?

Once you start feeding the birds in your garden it’s a good idea to continue to do so all year round. Just adjust the amounts and type of feed according to the time of year and the weather. Fat balls can go off in warm weather and should be discarded if they look past their best.

It’s important to keep those garden bird feeders stocked up over the winter months and into the spring but over the summer, autumn and early winter when there is usually an abundance of food in the garden, parks and countryside you may not need to put out as much food.

How should I feed the birds?

Moorhen on Feeder - S Abbott - garden birds

An unusual site on a bird feeder – a moorhen! Image credit: S Abbott

Different bird species feed in different ways. Blackbirds and robins prefer to feed off the ground but will also feed from bird tables. Finches, sparrows and tits will happily feed from hanging feeders and mesh feeders. Having said that, birds will adapt if they really need the food. We have seen a moorhen balancing on our hanging feeder at our office!

You will attract a greater number of species if you have a mixture of feeders. A good all round feeding station would be a bird table with feeder seed feeders and fat balls hanging off it. Ground feeding tables are available but you need to beware of predators such as cats. Some ground feeding tables come with a cage that allows small birds through but deter predators and larger birds like pigeons. Pigeons will clear the food in no time!

Hygiene is important. Clean your bird feeders regularly with a mild disinfectant, then rinse well and allow to dry before refilling with seeds. This will reduce disease transmission between your feathered visitors.

What should I feed the birds?

As with feeder types, a variety of different foods will attract a greater number of species.

  • Seed mixes feed a variety of species. According to experts at the RSPB, the best seed mixes contain plenty of flaked maize, sunflower seeds and peanut granules. The flaked maize is popular with blackbirds, while smaller birds enjoy small seeds such as millet and pin head oatmeal. Tits and greenfinches like sunflower seeds and peanuts.
  • Nyjer seeds are high in oil and loved by gold finches and siskins. They are very small seeds and require a special type of feeder with small holes.
  • Peanuts are rich in fat and are popular with house sparrows, great spotted woodpeckers, greenfinches, siskins and nuthatches. Don’t use slated or dry roasted peanuts and buy from a reputable source to ensure that they are low in aflatoxin, a natural toxin that can kill birds.
  • Black sunflower seeds are higher in oil content than the striped sunflower seeds are an be more popular with the birds than peanuts.
  • Fat balls and suet cakes make good winter food and are popular with a wide range of species, particularly starlings and house sparrows. If you buy them in a plastic mesh, remove the mesh and place in a special fat ball feeder or on your bird table. Small birds can get their feet trapped in the plastic mesh. You can make your own fat balls and cakes. At the bottom of this page is a recipe from the RSPB.

Why choose Fair to Nature bird food?

Fair to Nature tractor logo

Look for the logo on pack and in catalogues.

Fair to Nature accredited bird food benefits not only the birds in your garden but also birds in the countryside and farmland because Fair to Nature farmers grow special seed bearing crops to feed the farmland birds. The habitats on these farms provide food not only during the lean late winter and early spring period, but all year round. The wildflower habitats that they also grow provides birds with seeds and insects during the spring and summer months. This means that even migrant birds like the increasingly rare turtle dove benefit. You can read more about how our Fair to Nature farmers help wildlife by reading this article from the RSPB’s magazine Nature’s Home.

Wild bird food crop on a Fair to Nature Farm

Wild bird food habitat on a Fair to Nature Farm.

Fair to Nature bird food allows you to care about far more birds (and other wildlife) than just those that visit your garden, so it’s a great choice for all nature lovers. The majority of seeds and grains in the RSPB’s bird food range are sourced from Fair to Nature farms, as are the Ultiva range from GardenBird and the Honeyfield’s range from Marriage’s. You can find out more about these brands and where you can purchase them from the Conservation Grade website: 

www.conservationgrade.org/brands/

Fair to Nature farmers also provide supplementary food wild birds by spreading seed mixes along farm tracks.

Making your own bird food cake

You will need:

  • Suet or lard – melted (take care with hot fat!)
  • Mixture of seeds, nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, cheese and cake
  • Container, e.g. plastic cup or empty half of a coconut shell, or fir cones

Place the seed/nuts/fruit/oatmeal/cheese/cake mixture in a bowl and pour over the melted fat. Stir well and allow it to set in the container of your choice. If using fir cones, either dip the cones into the mixture when it has cooled down (so that you don’t burn yourself!) or smear the mixture onto the cones using your fingers – a nice messy job for children to get stuck into. You can then tie some string around the cone, and the other containers and hang them in the trees or off your bird table. Alternatively you can just turn it out on your bird table when solid.

Once you’ve encouraged the birds to visit your garden, don’t forget to take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place at the end of January each year. You can register for a Big Garden Birdwatch pack – https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/packrequest/.

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