Memorandum submitted by The Game Conservancy
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 implementedlargely
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.
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
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 biodiversitysome
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.
A CONSERVATION SCHEME
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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 metresheadlands) must not be
sprayed with insecticides in summer.
The Game Conservancy Trust
11 December 2001
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