Fair to Nature farmers are required to put at least 10% of their production area (i.e. the area of land on which they produce crops, livestock, milk, etc.) into four types of wildlife habitats – ‘pollen and nectar‘; ‘wild bird food crops‘; ‘tussocky and fine grasses‘; and ‘other habitats‘. These types of habitats have been scientifically proven to increase the amount of wildlife on the farms where they are created and managed.
The benefits of each habitat
The pollen and nectar habitat provides a vital food source for pollinating insects, such as bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Modern farmland is often deficient in sources of pollen and nectar. On Fair to Nature farms this habitat consists of wildflower seed mixes, including plants like Knapweed, Wild Carrot, Field Scabious, and legume seed mixes, such as Red Clover, Birdsfoot Trefoil, and Sainfoin. The reason for having two slightly different habitats is to prolong the period of flowering, thereby increasing the availability of food sources for the insects and other invertebrates. The traditional wildflower mixes reach their peak flowering time in late May/June and will continue to flower into the autumn. The legume mixes have a shorter flowering period but start flowering earlier in the year, so provide an important early source of nectar. Different insect species favour different types of flower so a range of plants is important. Depending on the soil type of the farm another recommended habitat that is included under ‘pollen and nectar’ is annually cultivated natural regeneration (or ACNR as we like to call it). Farms with heavier soils types sometimes have a high weed seed burden in the soil and this type of habitat can increase the weed burden, which in turn has a detrimental effect on the crops being grown.
The provision of ACNR is aimed at the maintenance of populations of rare annual arable plants, such as Corn Marigold, Rough Poppy, and Shepherd’s Needle – plants that have declined under intensive agricultural practices. These areas are best suited to lighter soils that are not very fertile. The areas are cultivated once in either the autumn or spring then left to their own devices, allowing the seed of rare arable plants to germinate, flower and seed, thereby maintaining the seed bank.
Pollen and nectar habitat makes up 4% of the Fair to Nature requirement. Sometimes a whole field or paddock is devoted to wildflowers, or the seed mixes are sown in strips along the edges of fields, providing wildlife corridors around the farm.
Wild bird food crops consist of plant species such as Triticale, Fodder Radish, Kale and Millet that provide a source of nutritious seeds for wild birds, i.e. Yellowhammer, Linnet, and Tree Sparrow, throughout the winter months and into the early spring when food is often in short supply. Under the Conservation Grade Protocol, farmers are required to have 2% of their production area in this type of habitat. The areas can be in blocks or wide strips along the edges of fields. This habitat is managed like any any other arable crop on the farm. Most of the seed mixes are are annual so the crop is renewed each year. Many of our farmer members also undertake supplementary feeding of wild birds by scattering grain along farm tracks near woods and hedgerows.
Tussocky and fine grass habitats are very important for small mammals, birds, and over-wintering invertebrates. These areas are often in wide strips along the edges of fields, not only providing wildlife corridors linking the various habitats around the farm, but also areas in which to nest, particularly with the tussock forming grasses. Grey Partridge and Voles will nest in tussocky grassland. These areas are ideal an hunting ground for the Barn Owl. The fine grasses, such as Crested Dogstail and Chewings Fescue, are less dense and can support the recolonisation of wildflowers. Depending on where they are sited, the strips may also protect vulnerable areas such as streams and hedgerows from agricultural activity. It’s important that these areas are not cut on an annual basis to preserve the life cycle of many butterflies that lay their eggs on the grasses, and to provide much needed winter shelter. The Fair to Nature requirement for this habitat is 2% of the production area.
Any good wildlife habitats on the farm that don’t fall into one of the above are counted as ‘Other habitats‘ in the Conservation Grade Protocol. These include hedgerows (very important for farmland birds as shelter, food source and nesting habitat; for small mammals – food and shelter; and butterflies and moths – food source for caterpillars); woodland (provides shelter, food, and ideal conditions for certain plants); ponds (provides water and food for many species, and shelter for some). Fair to Nature farmers also erect bird and bat boxes, and hedges are only cut every third year to protect nesting habitats and food sources such as wild berries, as well as providing essential shelter.
Some of the habitats we require may already have existed on the farm prior to it becoming an accredited farm and, providing they meet the standards, can count towards the 10% requirement. Other habitats may have to be established. Habitats such as wild bird food will need establishing annually or biennially. All habitats require specific management in order to maintain high levels of quality.
Have a look at the our Protocol to find out more about what a farmer needs to do to meet the standard required.