Talk highlights how our farming environment can make a place for wildlife

Not a sight you see every day... farmers looking for worms (pic FWAG East)

It’s fair to say that we could probably all do with a lift in spirits right now – and it duly came with the second in our winter series of talks.
Rebecca Inman, of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, presented The Farming Environment to a Zoom audience of 33 participants, who showed their appreciation perhaps more than anything with a range of questions that could have taken us deep into the night had (tea-)time permitted.
Ms Inman is a farm environment adviser for FWAG East, with almost 25 years’ experience giving on-farm advice. Her projects over the years have included habitat and species conservation and catchment management projects to help improve water quality. She has a particular interest in hedgerows – hence one of the take-away messages being that we should all look up (and perhaps get involved with) the Hedgelink project.
Ms Inman opened her talk, on Wednesday, February 9, by informing us that her job entailed talking to farmers about what we put back into the countryside and on what scale.
We had all witnessed the intensification of agriculture through the 20th century, but whereas farmers had previously been paid on the area they cropped, that was now not the case and so some land could be used very differently.
Establishing where they were unable to grow good crops allowed the potential for wildlife enhancement to be realised. Ideally, such wildlife-friendly areas could be linked.
In essence, farmers wanted fertile land, while wildlife wanted less fertile land and it was the latter where we could design habitats for pollinators and natural predators. Good habitat meant everyone could reap the benefits – for example it could host controlling species such as ladybirds, which preyed on aphids.
Protection of water and reinstatement of hedgerows were also high on the FWAG agenda, we were told, while involvement of local communities was, as ever critical.
The thorny issue of solar farms got the question-and-answer section rolling. Happily, Ms Inman’s reply that panels should be put on rooves rather than on farmland was – surely for everyone present – the right answer.
We discussed the impact of agriculture on rivers. We learnt that much of the problem was historic. Whereas sewage plants could release a huge amount of phosphates into the environment, nitrates were essentially an agricultural issue but one that we might be seeing less of in future.
Dog-walkers could be a massive problem for wildlife, we heard. After all, dogs and ground-nesting birds were never going to be an ideal mix; indeed, farmers funded to enhance wildlife on their land could have money taken back because of such problems and ultimately losses.
Nevertheless, there were species showing “upward movements” in their numbers, suggesting that at least in some cases the decline in wildlife was being reversed.
It’s rarely possible to escape the subject of money when considering such matters. As we were told, “bankrupt farmers are no good for any of us”. Conservation was expensive, so it was important it was properly funded.
Encouragingly, there was some support from private companies, while carbon trading was increasingly becoming a factor in land management.
Ms Inman said many farmers were trying to be innovative but not getting the required support from official bodies.
With the government expecting the country to import a lot more food, it was proving to be very slow in land-management policy. In that respect, farmers had little information on what was coming so were sitting tight – “and we don’t want that”.
Her message was, though, overwhelmingly positive: “I know we can do it collectively.”
One final thought… asked what we could all do to impress upon government the value of farms and food security, the answer was simple: speak to your MP.
Let’s get writing!

Spot the difference… sections of this hedge were not cut for four years (pic FWAG East)
Farming and wildlife can live together! (pic FWAG East)