Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The Game Conservancy Trust (A56)

  I am pleased to enclose The Game Conservancy Trust's view for your current inquiry. As an organisation we are mainly interested in restoring biodiversity in the countryside and our submission is about this issue. It spells out in some detail how we would propose this can be implemented—largely under current CAP funding arrangements.

  It is important to emphasise that we are a science-based organisation so our views are often based on our research findings. However, we are also a practical conservation charity and have been working with many farmers over the years to try and put out ideas into farm practice. For 10 years we have also been running our own commercial farm in Leicestershire which has been an important test bed for our approach.

  We have also submitted evidence to Sir Donald Curry's Commission and I enclose three copies of this which we published two months ago.[37] This document is rather broader and goes into less detail than our submission to your committee. However, some of the detail we have sent to you has been communicated to Sir Donald Curry by letter but has not been published by us and will not be until your own committee has finished its deliberations.

  The Game Conservancy Trust conducts research into game animals and the flora and fauna that share their habitats. The Trust employs some 20 post-doctoral scientists and over 40 other research staff with expertise in such areas as ornithology, entomology, biometrics, mammalogy, agronomics and fisheries science. It undertakes its own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. In 2000 it spent £1.5 million on research.


  This paper tackles the second of the three main issues raised by the Select Committee. That of stewardship of agricultural land. However, the three issues are interconnected and in the short and medium term we feel that the constructive use of existing financial supports is the only sensible way of tackling stewardship and the conservation of wildlife which is our organisation's principle concern.


  It is generally forgotten, even by those who have an interest in conservation, that farming has a very ancient history. The growing of cereal crops for food has its origins some 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent (now Lebanon & Eastern Turkey). Wheat and barley were derived originally from the harvesting of wild grasses in that region. Thus cereal crops are, in fact, derivatives of a steppe grassland ecosystem. The natural steppe has a rich profusion of wild plants, insects, birds and mammals many of which came to be farmland species associated with the cultivated fields. As farming spread west across Europe and into Britain in the Neolithic so the steppe-land flora and fauna spread with it.

  Much of this steppe-flora and fauna remained intact within agricultural systems until the mid 20th century. Since then the progressive increase in the use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers has hugely depleted this wildlife, and farm crops are now monocultures which support little or no biodiversity.

  We need to re-instate farm crops as wildlife habitats.


  The Game Conservancy Trust has a long track record of scientific research into the ecology of wildlife on farms. In the late 1960s and 1970s we began extensive studies on a series of arable farms along the chalk ridge of the Sussex downs between the rivers Arun and the Adur. Much of this work examined the abundance of insects in cereal crops and the relationship of this to birds like the grey partridge which are insectivorous for part of their lives. Realising that bird abundance depended to a very large extent on insect abundance, we continued with other experimental studies on mixed arable farms in Hampshire and Norfolk during the 1980s. These studies led to the development of practical conservation techniques that farmers could use to improve insect biodiversity within fields or adjacent to cereal crops. Conservation Headlands and Beetle Banks are two such features which became eligible for grant aid in some Environmentally Sensitive Areas, and are now available universally (subject to acceptance onto the scheme) under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

  Over the last decade we have acquired a fully commercial farm at Loddington in Leicestershire. There, through our Allerton Research and Education Trust, we have been able to incorporate these ideas fully into the operations of the farm. In particular we have developed the concept of special wildlife plantings using current set-aside rules.

  These habitat measures, combined with the employment of a gamekeeper, have delivered substantial increases in biodiversity—some animals like the brown hare (a Biodiversity Action Plan species) have increased by more than twenty-fold, and some of the bird species that make up the Government's indicators for quality of life have increased steadily. Elsewhere in the country they have continued to decline.

  We think that enough is now known to devise a system to restore a substantial amount of this biodiversity to the countryside, but at present financial incentives (principally CAP subsidies) work against their adoption. While re-directing a larger share of CAP funds towards agri-environment schemes is desirable, indeed we support this, inevitably only a minority of farmers eventually enter these schemes. What we urgently want are measures that can be applied quickly and are more or less universal in their impact.

  A key part of this approach is the constructive use of set-aside land for wildlife benefit. At present most farmers have either built set-aside into part of their crop rotation using it as a convenient break to help control weeds and disease or they abandon part of the farm on a more or less permanent basis. What we propose is very similar to that which operates in Switzerland.


  Purpose: To lay down a set of environmental standards to conserve and enhance the natural biodiversity of farmland by setting aside land for wildlife and paying farmers to employ farming methods to sustain the fauna and flora of farm crops. We propose the system would be obligatory to all farmers who receive Arable Area Payments. A proportion of their arable land must be set-aside and managed as wildlife cover.


Use of obligatory set-aside as wildlife cover

  This wildlife cover must be distributed throughout the farmed area in small blocks or narrow strips, such as an extended field margin of a minimum of 10 metres (the current rules allow for a minimum of 20 metres in most situations, and 10 metres next to water courses).

  Some types of wildlife cover would be eligible for supplementary payments because they are more costly to establish and manage.

  The obligatory amount of wildlife cover on each farm should not be below 5 per cent of the claimed eligible area (ie half of set-aside at the current rate).

  Farmers should have a mix of at least three of the following options as each favours a particular "suite" of species:

    —  Winter bird food crop (supplementary payment). Fertiliser input necessary for establishment and growth. Limited spray protocol. Crop reseeded every second year (for instance, it is the second year of kale, when it seeds, that has the real wildlife benefit). Kale, quinoa, millet, triticale, or teasel are suitable crops and at least two of these should be grown either as a mix or side by side. The mandatory mixture rule for the current wild bird cover option of set-aside is unnecessary and unpopular with farmers. [Species to benefit: Finches, buntings, sparrows, larks, thrushes and brown hare]

    —  Summer bird foraging habitat (supplementary payment). Cereal-based annual crops, which also provide a broad-leaved ground flora and insect foods for birds and their chicks eg triticale, wheat and barley. Grown singly or in mixture. No fertiliser, no insecticides and only limited herbicides. [Species to benefit: Grey partridge, corn bunting, skylark, reed bunting, tree sparrow, turtle dove, linnet. Rare arable flora, beneficial insects]

    —  Perennial flower mix (supplementary payment). To provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies. Typical plants might include legumes such as clover, sainfoin, trefoils, and others such as knapweed. [Species to benefit: Bumble bee, hoverflies and many butterflies such as the skippers and browns]

    —  Cut grass (no extra payment). Cut annually after mid July; no fertiliser or pesticide inputs. [Species to benefit: brown hare, corn bunting, and even corncrake hopefully one day!]

    —  Rough grass (no extra payment). Cut only approximately every three years. No fertiliser or pesticides [Species to benefit: Voles, barn owl, harvest mouse, yellow hammer, whitethroat, corn bunting, skipper butterflies, predatory beetles and other beneficial invertebrates, perennial plants such as scabious and knapweed]

    —  Uncropped wildlife strip (no extra payment). Cultivated annually/biannually in autumn or early spring. No fertiliser or unauthorised herbicide ie to tackle pernicious weeds. [Species to benefit: Turtle dove, stone curlew, arable flora]

  If a farm has no winter stubbles, any additional set-aside above the mandatory 5 per cent in wildlife cover crops, should be left as first year natural regeneration to provide winter stubbles. Ideally these areas should be lightly cultivated, when soil conditions allow, to stimulate germination of arable weed flora.

Management requirements for all set-aside

    —  Weed and volunteer control on set-aside land in spraying of non-selective, non-residual herbicide until mid-May (currently mid-April).

Whole farm management requirements

    —  Wildlife corridors. No crop must exceed 20 hectares without a break of at least 6 metres in width which is not subject to fertiliser. Herbicide use on these breaks restricted to what is necessary to selectively control pernicious weeds. (A supplementary payment may be needed for this if these areas are deemed not to be eligible for Area Payment).

    —  Water run-off. Ditches and dykes must be separated from the crop by a vegetated strip not subject to fertiliser or spray drift.

    —  Pesticide protocols. No insecticides to be used in summer unless specified pest thresholds have been reached. Crop margins (6-12 metres—headlands) must not be sprayed with insecticides in summer.

The Game Conservancy Trust

11 December 2001

37   Not printed. Back

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