The Fair to Nature protocol has been designed to deliver the highest levels of on-farm biodiversity through specific habitat creation and management. It is the only UK agri-environment scheme backed by such a high degree of combined scientific proof and practical implementation experience.

The Fair to Nature scheme’s original supporting data was derived from field experiments at Manor Farm in Yorkshire during 1999-2003 and in The Buzz Project during 2002-2006. Further supportive data has been produced over the years from ongoing trials such as The Upton Estate Experiment, between 2006 and 2009, and a 4 year joint research project with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust from 2009 to 2013.

Upton Estate Experiment 2006-2009
The Conservation Grade Nature Friendly Farming (which became the Fair to Nature scheme in 2014) trial at Upton Estate in Oxfordshire was a 3 year project set up to scientifically evaluate a range of Fair to Nature habitats and to examine any differences between locating them as field margins or corners, and North or South facing. The trial was project managed by The Wildlife Farming Company and evaluated by research scientists from The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

The habitats in the trial included the following:

1) FARM CROP – This is where the raw material for Fair to Nature branded food comes from and is poor in terms of a wildlife habitat
2) NATURAL REGENERATION – A cheap, easy habitat that generally produces low levels of wildlife and considerable weed ingress
3) WINTER BIRD FOOD – A seed mixture that provides birds with the vital food they need to survive through the winter
4) WILD FLOWERS – The best overall habitat for wildlife delivery and the key habitat in the Fair to Nature protocol

Each year the habitats were carefully assessed for various wildlife species by the CEH researchers. The species assessed include the following:

a) Farmland birds
b) Bumblebees
c) Butterflies
d) Invertebrates
e) Dicotyledonous plant species (e.g. wild flowers)

Results Summary
1. FARMLAND BIRDS

Linnets and Greenfinches were the most abundant bird species recorded in the winter of 2006/7, whereas Linnets and Chaffinches were most abundant in 2007/8. The total number of birds recorded in 2006 between December and March was significantly higher on the wild bird seed mix than all other habitats, and the number of different species was higher too. Then in 2007 bird numbers increased by 36%, once again, significantly higher than all other habitats. Not surprising really, considering that the wild bird seed mix contains specific plants with high seed numbers, designed to provide food throughout the winter months (e.g. fodder radish, White millet, camelina, buckwheat and quinoa).

The low levels of birds in both the crop and the natural regeneration plots highlights their poor suitability as bird habitats and underlines our view that the only logical and sensible way forward on farm to make a real difference to bird population decline is to sow and manage carefully designed specific habitats.

2. BUMBLEBEES

In 2006 the short tongued bumblebees Bombus terrestris, B.lucorum and B.lapidarius were the most common species recorded. Also, the rare (UKBAP) Large Garden Bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) was recorded in the wild bird seed mix. Then in 2007 the most abundant species was the long tongued Bombus pascuorumi and once again the rare B.ruderatus appeared in the wild bird seed mix. The total number of bumble bees in 2007 between July and September was significantly higher in both the wildflower and wild bird seed plots compared with the natural regeneration plots, and bees were absent in the crop. This again confirms the enormous value of sowing species specific habitats.

So why were there so many bees in the natural regeneration in 2006? Well, interestingly there were quite a few Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) in those plots in the first year, which attracted the bumblebees, whereas the wildflower plots had been cut in the spring to encourage flower growth rather than grass species. This confirms that wildlife habitat creation on farmland is severely limited by the lack of seeds of desirable species in the seed bank and surrounding landscape. The thistles are an ‘injurious weed’ so were sprayed off in year one, and in year 2 the wildflower plots were positively blooming, hence more bumblebees.

3. BUTTERFLIES

Small White and Meadow Brown Butterflies were the most abundant in 2006. The declining species Small Copper and Common Blue were also recorded exclusively in the wildflower plots. In 2007 Meadow Green and Green-veined White were the most abundant butterflies and in both years total butterfly numbers were significantly higher in the wildflowers and wild bird seed plots than the crop, once again highlighting the value of species specific habitats.

Manor Farm Experiment 1999-2003

The project was established in 1998 at Manor Farm, a 164ha arable unit at Eddlethorpe, North Yorkshire. It was project managed by The Farmed Environment Company (FEC Ltd) and assessed by The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) with the overall aim to demonstrate that practical wildlife conservation and profitable farming can be effectively integrated. The objectives of the project were:

  1. To record the diversity of plants, birds, small mammals, butterflies, bumblebees, beetles, spiders and other non-insect invertebrates on professionally managed arable farmland;
  2. To monitor how the diversity of these groups responds to conservation management practices implemented on the farm;
  3. To demonstrate the use of precision farming techniques for targeting sites for wildlife conservation;
  4. To develop and test innovative and practical techniques for enhancing biodiversity of arable farmland which are widely applicable;
  5. To provide practical, research-based information to those involved in managing the countryside;
  6. To establish the costs of conservation measures to the farm business.

The baseline species populations were assessed in year 1, then the various habitats were created. The habitats included :

  • The cereal crop
  • Conservation headland
  • Tussocky grass
  • Natural regeneration
  • Wildflower rich grassland
  • Legume mix

Summary of Results
During the 3 years the total flora & fauna species identified amounted to 1484 species.
Increases in individual species were recorded and summarised as follows:


The Buzz Project (2002-2006)

The BUZZ Project (2002-2006) was a joint project undertaken by:

  • The Farmed Environment Company (FEC) – Project management, agronomy and margin management
  • The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) – ecological monitoring, wildlife assessments with funding from Syngenta, Unilever and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

The project spanned six farms in widely separated localities across England, and compared six field margin prescriptions, (each of which is contained within agri-environment schemes) in terms of the invertebrate numbers and species each attracts.
The project also looked at vegetation succession, and the use of a four-species mix to provide a standing crop of seed for the benefit of farmland birds in winter.

Summary of results from the Buzz Project

Year 1 *Vortis sampling only. All figures multiplied up to per hectare

Years 2 and 3 Sweep Net and Vortis sampling. All figures are best plot averages

The habitats

The Crop
Comments and results

  • Simple structure and composition
  • Limited value for plants and invertebrates
  • Limited food value

Conservation Headland
Comments and results

  • Variable habitat
  • Invert value between crop and natural regeneration
  • Twice as many broad leaved plants

Tussocky Grass
Comments and results

  • Good for bugs, web-building spiders, over-wintering invertebrates
  • x4 bugs and spiders

Natural Regeneration
Comments and results

  • Good for beetles, plants
  • Variable habitat, bare ground good for invertebrates
  • Ground beetles x2
  • Plants x3

Flower-rich Grassland
Comments and results

  • Very visual
  • Attractive to widest range of invertebrates
  • x8 butterflies greater per visit

Legume Mix
Comments and results

  • Best for bumblebees and butterflies
  • Pollen and nectar was abundant
  • x13 increase in butterflies
  • Bumblebees: 1 in crop, 2,117 in legumes