Wildlife & farming

13.12.12 What have the farmers ever done for wildlife discussion archive

The breadth of wildlife reported as being seen on a daily basis by participants in this discussion was impressive. Barn owls, kingfishers, lapwings, red kites, woodpeckers plus many more Red Listed birds were regularly spotted on farm. Otters, red deer, red squirrels, brown hares and voles were amongst the popular four legged farm regulars.

Rabbits, hares, hedgehogs, trout & salmon were amongst the most worrying reports of wildlife seen less often. Changes in farming methods, along with a large rise in predator numbers, were thought to be an influence on these declines.

It was encouraging to see the positive effects Environmental Stewardship schemes were having. It is estimated that 30,000 Skylark plots are situated in Agri-Environmental areas on farms. Many farms outside schemes were quietly getting on with measures to help maintain or increase wildlife. There were some quite stunning photographs of wildlife on farms, plus a fascinating range of wildlife visiting an in-field feeder being watched by a farm webcam.

The discussion held on Thursday 13th December 2012 looked at the topic of “What have the farmers ever done for wildlife?” and generated a total of 500 tweets on the topic from 73 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.


A full summary of the discussion can be found here:




Q1a. What wildlife are you most proud of on your farm?

  • I like our foxes and red squirrels, but don’t see them much so the deer!
  • Most proud of the number of birds we now attract to the farm since we have introduced specific mixes for winter feed
  • Otters down by the stream, an amazing site
  • Completely surrounded by farmer’s land- family of barn owls for last decade been wonderful
  • We have red deer that will come within 20 feet of where I am at
  • Seeing the barn owls and lapwings is one of the best things, but also having duckling or any birds with chicks is great
  • I’ve been hoping for the return of lapwings on our farm. The HLS is starting to work as we saw one in the spring
  • Barn Owl, as that is the bird we have not only persuaded to visit but to breed
  • The fact that we’ve recorded 107 bird species.
  • I really like the deer as long as you only see couple at a time. Healthy badgers are fine with me
  • Red kites
  • Love to see the barn owls, if they’re doing well then so are, voles, mice, insects, beetles
  • Got to be barn owls, breeding here again after 3 yr absence. 3 chicks ringed this year
  • Also Lapwings, which have increased dramatically in last 7 yrs. Seeing 2 or 3 used to be a treat; now up to 70 if lucky
  • Got to love seeing the kingfishers as well, they’re amazing birds.
  • Love to see the deer, foxes etc but the resident pair of barn owls are my real favorite


Q1b. What wildlife do you see regularly?

  • We see Roe deer, badgers, buzzards and lots of smaller birds including jays – love the woodpeckers visits.
  • We see Herons and Buzzards quite often on the farm. See millions of foxes outside flat in London
  • One thing I miss in Surrey is the clouds of sparrows, don’t miss starlings and haven’t heard a cuckoo for many years
  • We have got lapwings back on farm bird mix planted several years ago was having a great result
  • Otters, kingfishers, trout, invertebrates, wildflower meadows, red kites, buzzards, red listed birds, owls, list goes on
  • A covey of 30 wild grey partridge seen here 2 years ago, all arable but ELS, CSS and small shoot
  • We had a fantastic hare population bonus of HLS unfortunately also attracted gypsies poaching, now no hares left
  • Love the Lapwings, except the dive bombing bit when I stray to close to a nest…
  • Deer, rabbits, foxes and badgers all pre-dawn in West and East Sussex


Q2a. What wildlife is struggling in your area?

  • Doesn’t seem to be as much trout and salmon in our river anymore
  • Rabbits are in decline-used to have loads, we’re overrun with badgers though
  • I actually can’t remember when I last saw a rabbit
  • Rabbits haven’t recovered since myxomatosis. Everything else ok
  • Hedgehogs, seen so many dead ones this back end
  • We don’t see any Hares now. There used to be loads of them in our apple orchards. Same for Bull Finches. We miss the hares …
  • Lapwing just hanging on here after loss of sugar beet. Bare ground in spring important, stewardship and potatoes only source


Q2b. How are you trying to help support or build up their numbers?

  • My father has put large areas of the farm under specific management plans for birds, hedgerows are laid and cut in rotation
  • Supplementary feeding with wheat makes a massive difference, been doing it over farm for years
  • Great to see so much wildlife using the pheasant feeders in the winter
  • Owls are not doing so well, yet we’re surrounded by woodland
  • Important to keep hedges high as owls use them to hunt along but also stop them being hit by lorries when crossing the road
  • We have been in various stewardship schemes for 10 years now all aimed at increasing biodiversity and habitat
  • I think most farmland is only marginal habitat for Lapwing
  • We have a pair of oystercatchers for the last 3 years since we added 2 large ponds and little owls
  • I think the pheasant shoot provides the best feed source for wild birds through the winter.
  • I think people walking dogs out of control and loose affects wildlife as upsets ground nesting birds
  • Would UK animal loving public support voluntary closing of footpaths during nesting Mar-June?


Q3. Why do you think farming sometimes struggles to be seen as caring for wildlife?

  • Usually given bad press. Too often finger of blame is pointed at farmers and not always justified
  • The farmer that has been seen as the ‘good guy’ here. Management of hedges and ditches sympathetic to breeding seasons
  • Because we are too easy a target to blame when any bad news surfaces
  • Large scale, solely profit motivated ‘agriculture’ makes people cynical
  • Because it has been extremely at reacting to agri policy and then we’re left standing whilst new policy makers point fingers!
  • Complete lack of understanding about countryside
  • Farming can have a bad image as lots of wildlife has ebbed away within people’s lifetime. Facts, but not the whole story
  • Most of the time farming gets bad press and no help from RSPB, how many times has intensive agriculture been blamed?
  • Think big agribusiness can sometimes get in the way so that public doesn’t see what farmers do
  • I find local level the RSPB are very helpful. However at HQ level they let politics get in the way
  • Public perception is still very Silent Spring. Farm webcams could become an online sensation


Q4. We have recently seen the re-launch of FWAG. What different groups have helped you with wildlife on your farm and how?

  • We have used FWAG and Somerset Wildlife Trust. Each working with set projects. SWT did our ELS/HLS application.
  • Countryside Management Services in Hertfordshire a brilliant resource for the county
  • I have always preferred to use FWAG. They always had a great farmer/wildlife viewpoint
  • National park farm advisors advising cutting hedges 1 yr in 3 back in late eighties
  • Wildcare have helped no end, they carry out wildlife counts on our farm and help us nurture key species & increase habitats
  • Launch of new FWAG Association is great news. A truly independent source of advice that is not politically motivated in any way
  • Dorset Wildlife Trust have helped clear and restore ponds with volunteer groups
  • Game conservancy trust
  • Conservation grade farming alongside ELS has resulted in us putting 200 acres into wildlife areas


Q5. Do you think agri-environmental schemes & the Campaign for the Farmed Environment are helping to build up wildlife numbers?

  • Yes, but it takes time. One has to be patient and not expect to see instant results
  • Have Over Wintered Stubble as part of our CFE. Can see the benefits early in the morning when the dawn patrol takes flight
  • HLS can be very effective, esp over big areas. ELS has some great options (& goodwill?) but hasn’t bought much +ve change.
  • The 10,000th HLS agreement is just about to be signed so I hear
  • Farmland Bird Index shows some species have not increased, there will be plenty of tweets that tell a different story locally
  • Agri Env is too prescriptive – farmer has good numbers of something then along comes advisor puts conditions on agreement neg impact
  • I think as farmers we harp on about predators too much. Need to get the habitat right first so wildlife can stand on own 2 feet


Q6. How can we balance habitat & ecological management against livestock, arable & general food production?

  • Some farmers allow for grassland to flower 40d rotation but still used for grazing dairy cattle, depends on land and farmer
  • Persuading customers that food produced extensively and better for nature is worth the extra cost
  • Why habitat & ecological management seen as trade off against livestock & arable production?
  • Flexibility is important. ELS states a set field for Lapwing / Curlew breeding; so what if nature sends them to next field..?
  • ‘Land sparing’ approach gaining favour but most livestock conservation need ‘land sharing’
  • Use least productive land for env and concentrate growing crops where they grow best! yield mapping v worthwhile
  • Wildlife/habitats and livestock have co-existed here for centuries hopefully will for the long term
  • Keep wildlife areas and crops separate rather than trying not to grow a crop properly..leads to blocked combines etc..
  • Catchment Sensitive Farming works to help farms reduce water pollution yet maintain production/ increase efficiency


Q7. Farmers are told to produce more & impact less. Can we do this & serve wildlife populations at the same time? How?

  • Kind of links into yield plateau – more R&D and good KT to push yields/ efficiency
  • With use of technology field mapping & GPS tools help impact less & produce more
  • There is common ground. Both farming & wildlife depend own same natural resources and lots of interdependence
  • Don’t have to set land aside. Greencrops provide food/cover. Precision application results in reduced water pollution etc
  • Max env. area, best wildlife seed mixes, poll & nect & some husbandry to increase return 4 wildlife. Leaves more land 4 food
  • Talk last night by Prof Tim Benton- he said ecosystem services must be viewed as integral to resistant farming system
  • We aren’t negotiating with our wildlife, we are in control and responsible for its destiny
  • Need to look at multiple benefits provided by all env measures, not just biodiversity
  • Think of ecosystems as resources that can help rather than displace ag, e.g. create habitats for natural pest control species

Q8. What will have the biggest impact on wildlife in the future?

  • I think climate is biggest factor we can’t control or manage which will affect wildlife and habitats
  • Similar question might be ‘Which is likely to affect your decisions on farm most?’
  • Government!
  • CAP Greening, the aim of one scheme to fit the whole of Europe. Madness. More national and regional flexibility needed
  • Colliding pressures on food insecurity, water insecurity, climate change and pressures to produce more high resource food
  • The public, will always want cheap food1st, envt 2nd, CAP may or may not see fit 2 redistribute subsidised food prodn 2 envt
  • The value of ecosystem services being recognized
  • Maintaining biodiversity is key, without that wildlife has poor prospects – along with the rest of us!
  • Changes in weather patterns definitely playing a part
  • CAP reform will change tools for env but not need. must intensify land managed 4 env and 4 production in harmony

Links to more information

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants and Alan Spedding, 17 December 2012

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